Mufti Mohammad Sayeed | 76 | Jammu & Kashmir
Founder, People’s Democratic Party
I STARTED MY political career in 1962 when Kashmir was in turmoil. The fallout of the Partition was still playing out in the subcontinent, more so in Kashmir where the politics revolved around the binary of pro-Delhi and anti-Delhi forces. I was fresh from my stint at Aligarh as a student of law and, on returning to the Valley, jumped headlong into politics, refusing the advice of my parents to be a tehsildar. It was a tricky choice, considering the prevailing turbulence in Kashmir politics. What prepared me for it was a keen study of the writings of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the most prominent Muslim politician in India who opposed Partition. I sought guidance from his nationalistic outlook in his India Wins Freedom, Gubar-i-Khatir and Tarjuman-ul-Quran.
It was with this intellectual wherewithal that I plunged into the choppy waters of Kashmir’s politics. It wasn’t easy being a nationalist or integrationist in the kind of shrill political culture that had developed in the state. I started my political innings with the Democratic National Conference (DNC) led by Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq, a true nationalist. The DNC later merged with the National Conference (NC) headed by Sheikh Abdullah. The subsequent years saw Kashmir go through much political strife. I quit NC to join the Congress and by 1972, I became state president of the Congress. Through all this, the books of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru steadied my feet in the shifting sands. Gandhi’s My Experiments with Truth and Nehru’s An Autobiography and The Discovery of India taught me that above petty power plays and attempts at monopoly, politics was the pursuit of a larger vision and ideals. With that in mind, as state Congress president, I tried to broaden the secular, nationalist space in the state’s politics.
Sadiq’s politics of secularism and federalism furthered the socialist underpinnings of my early political career. These came from avid reading of Russian literature, especially Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy. For a boy schooled in a madrassa, taught by a religious scholar, these books were a huge leap of faith. Russian literature gave me an acute sense of the complexities and possibilities of life, informing my political imagination. This is why I approached politics as an opportunity to play a larger game-changing role in the society.
This quest to redeem the lives of my people brought me back to Kashmir in the late ’90s and float the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), especially in the wake of the fear spread by the dreaded POTA and Task Force. The objective was to respond to the prevailing extraordinary situation in the state and rescue people from NC’s reign of terror. Our political alternative was an offer of freedom from fear that circumscribed the lives of people, and the people elected us to power in 2002.
Our ideology allowed us to be a representative political mainstream with indigenous mooring that could respond to local discussions and help dissipate the accumulated public anger, which decades of political stonewalling had created. The election outcome came as a catharsis for the long pent-up democratic aspirations in the Valley and unleashed a huge sense of empowerment. The realisation that they could actually change the government through polls gave the otherwise alienated people a fresh stake in the system.
The PDP hasn’t closed its eyes to the festering Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan. Here again, it is Nehru’s vision of India, articulated in his books, that keeps my faith in my own convictions as an integrationist and in the idea of India. However, Kashmir has become a black spot on this otherwise bright picture. While the rest of India has moved on, Kashmir remains trapped in history. Geographically too, it has been deprived of all the traditional routes that once connected it to the world, creating a sense of siege among its people. It is time to take steps to exorcise the demons of history. There is a need to resolve the Kashmir issue once and for all. While we can’t change the borders, we can at least render them irrelevant.