New Delhi: Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, founder of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), died at the age of 79 in New Delhi on Thursday. He was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) about 15 days ago with complaints of neck pain and fever.

Doctors diagnosed him to have sepsis, decreased blood counts and pneumonia. He was in the intensive care unit of AIIMS and during hospitalisation his platelets dropped dangerously low. For the past few days, the chief minister was on a ventilator.

“Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed passes away," confirmed state education minister Naeem Akhtar.

Sayeed took over as chief minister of PDP-BJP coalition on 1 March last year. With Sayeed’s death, his daughter and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti is set to take over the party’s leadership. She has the backing of most of the senior PDP leaders too. Coalition partner BJP too has already agreed to make Mehbooba Mufti the next chief minister of the state for the remaining term of her father.

“Mufti Sahab provided a healing touch to J&K through his leadership. He’ll be missed by all of us. Condolences to his family and supporters. What stood out about Mufti Sahab was his statesmanship. In his long political journey he won many admirers across the political spectrum. Mufti Sahab’s demise leaves a huge void in the nation and in J&K, where his exemplary leadership had a major impact on people’s lives," tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Deeply pained to learn of J&K CM Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s demise. He was known for his love for the common people, specially the underprivileged. Mufti Sayeed had a wonderful understanding of complex issues pertaining to J&K. He wanted to bring permanent peace to the valley. The demise of Mufti Sayeed is an irreparable loss to Jammu and Kashmir. His departure has also left a big void in national politics," tweeted home minister Rajnath Singh.

An astute politician, Sayeed’s decision to share power with the BJP despite criticism was considered a break from the past. It was for the first time that the BJP was part of a government in the only Muslim-majority state.

“The two parties have gone ahead with the alliance with conviction and not compulsion. If Jammu and Kashmir has to be made a model of development, then peace is a prerequisite. History has given us an opportunity. The solution to the Kashmir problem has not been reached, but we will change history. We want to meet the hearts and minds of people. There has to be justice for all and good governance," Sayeed had said after the swearing-in ceremony in March last year.

From an obscure lawyer to becoming the only Muslim home minister of the country so far, Sayeed, with his craftiness and unwavering eye on being a bridge between J&K and Delhi, came a long way from his humble beginning and carved a niche for himself in the national political discourse.

In a political career spanning nearly six decades, Sayeed emerged as a rival power centre to the mighty Abdullahs of the National Conference, always playing his cards close to the chest, while making friends with parties following conflicting ideologies to suit his political agenda.

The high-points in the political journey of Sayeed, who would have turned 80 on 12 January, was in 1989 when he became India’s first Muslim home minister. Years later, he became the chief minister of the restive state for a second time in 2015, heading a coalition with the BJP.

Sayeed’s stint in the Union home ministry at a time when militancy had begun to rear its ugly head in his home state, would, however, be most remembered for the kidnapping of his third daughter Rubaiya by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, an erstwhile Kashmiri nationalist organisation.

The militants demanded freeing five of their men in exchange for Rubaiya’s freedom and let her off only after their demand were met. The kidnapping and subsequent release of the militants, according to Sayeed’s rivals, projected India as a “soft state" for the first time.

Born in Baba Mohalla of Bijbehara in Anantnag district on 12 January 1936, Sayeed had his early education at a local school and graduated from SP College, Srinagar. He went on to obtain a law degree and Master’s degree in Arab history from Aligarh Muslim University. Sayeed cut his political teeth early, having joined the Democratic National Conference of G.M. Sadiq in the late 1950s.

Sadiq, recognising the potential of the young lawyer, appointed him as the district convenor of the party. In 1962, Sayeed was elected to the state assembly from Bijbehara, the seat which he retained five years later. He was appointed a deputy minister by Sadiq, who by then had become chief minister.

However, he fell out with the party a few years later and joined the Congress—a courageous but risky decision at that time given the unstinted support of most Kashmiris to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who was in jail.

Considered a shrewd organiser and administrator, Sayeed ensured that the Congress not only got a foothold in the Valley but created pockets of staunch support for the party. In 1972, he became a cabinet minster and also Congress party’s leader in the Legislative Council. He was made the state Congress president a couple of years later. As he rapidly grew in stature, Sayeed saw himself as the next chief minister of the state.

However, all hopes he might have harboured of occupying the hot seat were dashed when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi entered into an accord with Abdullah and facilitated his return as chief minister after a hiatus of 11 years, much against the wishes of Congress workers in general and Sayeed in particular. Not the one to give up easily, Sayeed engineered a coup of sorts ahead of the 1977 elections as Congress withdrew support to Abdullah’s government.

The aim was to have a Congress chief minister—which would have been Sayeed—in place for elections to control the official machinery but governor L.K. Jha brought the state under Governor’s rule. It was the first time that Jammu and Kashmir was brought under Governor’s rule. Sayeed would later play a role in imposition of Governor’s rule on all five occasions during his epic political career. The results of 1977 Assembly elections all but killed Sayeed’s dream of becoming the chief minister as Abdullah’s National Conference came to power with a thumping majority.

Sayeed was a key player when Governor’s rule was imposed for the second time in the state in 1986. The National Conference and Abdullahs have privately held the wily man from south Kashmir responsible for the intra-party rebellion against and subsequent dismissal of Farooq Abdullah by governor Jagmohan in 1984. The power tussle between Farooq and his brother-in-law G.M. Shah led to a permanent estrangement and also saw the latter becoming chief minister with Congress support. However, Shah’s tenure also did not last long as Congress headed by Sayeed withdrew support to his government leading to imposition of governor’s rule for the second time in 1986.

When militancy broke out in Kashmir and Sayeed became the Union home minister, he appointed Jagmohan as governor despite protests by Farooq Abdullah, who resigned and the state came under governor’s rule again in 1990. While the state was brought under Governor’s rule in 2002 and 2014 due to Sayeed taking time to thrash out coalition dispensations with the Congress and the BJP, respectively, it was his manoeuvrings that saw a democratically elected government give way to administration by the Raj Bhawan in 2008.

Sayeed’s PDP withdrew support to coalition government headed by Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad in July 2008 following widespread protests over the Amarnath land allotment row that pitted the people of Hindu-dominated Jammu region against the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley.

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