Two months before the PDP and the BJP finally announced that they had formed a coalition in Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said this: Horses can’t be change mid-stream. This was Mufti’s terse signal to the BJP that “I” will be leading the charge as the chief minister for a full tenure of six years. The BJP agreed.
Mufti’s “mid-stream” fears seem to be rooted in his previous tenure, when he was CM in a coalition with the Congress from 2002. He ruled for three years before leaving the seat for Ghulam Nabi Azad, and finally ended up withdrawing support. But it is a quick look at his innings on the political field that reveals exactly why Mufti wanted the “mid-stream” jinx off him.
Mufti was the first Muslim home minister of the country, but remained so only for a year (1989-90). He was also the Union tourism minister once, but again for a year only. Also, he had also been, much earlier, a state cabinet minister only for three years.
This time around, Mufti had full and un-conditional political support from the BJP and he hoped he could be CM for six years, both coalition partners often asserting it. But then, who knew it was at the fag-end of his life.
Mufti was one of the few political leaders who knew the pulse of Jammu and Kashmir. He was acquainted with every corner of the state. He had an equation with leaders from Lakhanpur in one end to Ladakh in the other, with all, even the separatists. Mufti had, in fact, sidelined the separatists his strategy as ‘soft-separatism’: it is perhaps for this reason that it’s said that during Mufti’s first stint as chief minister, even the postman had forgotten the address of the separatist leaders.
It will, however, be unfair to assume that Mufti was pro-separatists. He was Indian — by heart and conviction. His soft separatism was only a means to establish his party and take on the deeply-entrenched NC, for it was Mufti who directed officials to ensure that the national anthem was played in every school in the Kashmir Valley.
That is why a strong section of the political leadership still believes that the strife-torn state’s narrative would have been different had the Congress, which a disgruntled Mufti left in the late eighties, not changed him “mid-stream”.
Moreover, Mufti was the only Valley politician who had won an election from Jammu (RS Pura, 1984) and would spend considerable time there. In 2002, when his party formed an alliance with the Congress, which had got maximum seats from the Jammu region, Mufti would say that the route to power came through Jammu.
This time around, the PDP had extended it by stressing the “Jammu-Kashmir axis”, saying it was important to bring Kashmir into the mainstream than focusing only on the Kashmir-Delhi axis.
Mufti took the political ‘risk’ by joining hands with the BJP in the state. It was a gamble, which some say could have been a turning point. Mid-stream, however, fate changed plans.