From an obscure lawyer to becoming the only Muslim Home Minister the country has seen so far, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed carved a niche for himself in national and Jammu and Kashmir politics with the craftiness and unwavering focus of an avid bridge player he was.
In a political career spanning nearly six decades, Sayeed emerged as a rival power centre to the mighty Abdullahs, 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 January 12, was his being catapulted to the chair of free India’s first Muslim Home Minister in 1989 and, years later, becoming the Chief Minister of the restive state for a second time in 2015, heading a coalition with BJP, which had its first brush with power in the only Muslim-majority state.
Sayeed’s stint in the 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 JKLF. The militants demanded freeing five of their comrades in exchange for Rubaiya’s freedom and let her off only after their demand had been 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 January 12, 1936, Sayeed had his early education at a local school and graduated from S P 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.