Heading a coalition government with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jammu and Kashmir is no simple task. But astute politician that he was, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed managed to pull off the delicate balancing act since being sworn in chief minister in March 2015.
Sayeed, 79, breathed his last at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here on Thursday. He was admitted to the hospital on December 24 and was being treated for sepsis, decreased blood counts and pneumonia.
The veteran politician, having entered the political field in the 1950s, had vast experience and his switching political parties earlier in his career probably gave him the political insight needed to tide over the many tricky situations in his coalition government.
Sayeed, president of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had earlier served as chief minister from November 2, 2002 to November 2,2005 when he headed a coalition government with the Congress after his party won 18 seats in the 2002 assembly polls.
But besides his fame as Kashmiri leader, Sayeed was also the first Muslim home minister of India in the V.P. Singh government in 1989.
Sayeed was just five days old as India’s home minister, when his third daughter Rubaiya, then 23, was abducted by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) on December 8, 1989.
Rubaiya, a medical student, became a household name in the country when Kashmiri militants kidnapped her while she was travelling in a local mini bus in 1989.
She was released on December 13 in exchange for the freedom of five JKLF militants.
The event was termed a watershed for militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.
The government&’s policy of bowing to the demands of militants was repeated in December 1999 when three terrorists were released in exchange for the safety of passengers of a hijacked Indian Airlines flight.
Sayeed has welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi&’s visit to Lahore as a step in the right direction and also the decision of both countries to hold dialogue.
Born on January 12, 1936 in Bijbehara in Anantnag district, Sayeed’s political voyage began in 1950 with the National Conference party.
Sayeed developed a passion for politics in his teens when he met then Kashmir "Prime Minister" Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad in the mid-1950s to seek financial help for higher studies.
Sayeed studied at the SP College in Srinagar and Aligarh Muslim University from where he obtained a degree in Law and Arab History.
He started his electoral journey from his birth place in 1962 winning the seat under NC and retained it in 1967.
That year he was made a deputy minister in G.M. Sadiq&’s government. He parted ways with NC and joined the Congress, and played a key role in helping establish the party in Kashmir. In 1971, he became a state minister in the government headed by the Congress party.
In 1975 he was made the leader of the Congress Legislature Party and president of Pradesh Congress but lost the next two elections. He joined Rajiv Gandhi&’s government in New Delhi in 1986 as union tourism minister. He quit a year later in protest citing the alleged complacency of the Congress party in handling Meerut riots.
In 1987, he quit Congress party to have a brief stint with V P Singh-led Jan Morcha.
In 1989, he became India’s first Muslim home minister.
In 1999, he rejoined the Congress under P.V. Narasimha Rao, but he quit the party that year to form the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in July.
In 2002 he became the chief minister, with just 16 seats in the state assembly, in alliance with the Congress.
He invited then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to address a rally in Srinagar in April 2003 at the Sher-e-Kashmir grounds. Vajpayee became the first prime minister to address a public rally in Srinagar after the advent of militancy in 1989.
The move saw a new wave of peace efforts and led to the withdrawal of armed forces from the forward areas, ceasefire along borders, scrapping of POTA and release of political prisoners.
It also led to a direct engagement between India and Pakistan and between Centre and separatist leaders in Kashmir.
Sayeed also pushed for freer movement of people and goods across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, which he felt would improve the climate on both sides.
The PDP was ousted by the National Conference in the 2008 Assembly elections, winning 21 seats. Omar Abdullah led the NC to victory in the state.
His daughter Mehbooba Mufti, an able politician, is expected to take over.
Mehbooba, 56, would be the state’s first-ever woman chief minister. She has been a driving force behind the PDP&’s emergence as an alternative to the National Conference in the state.