Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti

Once most hated politician in Kashmir for his pro-Delhi stance and then loathed in Delhi for being a soft separatist, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (78) is the most sought after politician these days. Even as it appears that his party People’s Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party are inching closer towards stitching a difficult alliance, telephones at his official Fairview residence on posh Gupkar road in Srinagar are buzzing since December 23, the day election results catapulted his party to single-largest formation with 28 seats in the 87-member Jammu and Kashmir assembly. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, BJP strategist and union minister Arun Jaitley and latest the patriarch L K Advani have made calls to offer support to his PDP-led government.After a high-voltage election campaign centred around dynastic politics, the BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, who is incharge of Jammu and Kashmir affairs now describes Mufti a “national leader” with “high calibre”. For Congress state unit president Prof Saifudin Soz, vying to become once again part of the government, Mufti is a “chosen leader”. Amongst all this, the ageing leader, known for throwing surprises, shunning media and restricting himself to his residence is drawing a vicarious pleasure. On Wednesday he along with his close party aides and family members left for tourist resort Gulmarg, even as when his daughter and party president Mehbooba Mufti met governor N N Vohra in winter capital Jammu to discuss government formation.Mufti, who has been India’s first Muslim home minister in the VP Singh government, is seen as the likely chief minister of the state once again and hence the BJP over the past few days worked on him instead of persuading his daughter and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti who is averse to having any deal with the Hindutva party that boomerangs on her credentials in the Muslim majority Kashmir valley.Mehbooba, however, appeared a changed person on Wednesday indicating a possibility of joining hands with the BJP to form the government when she invoked Vajpayee while talking to reporters in Jammu after an hour-long meeting with governor N N Vohra that she described as informal while claiming to have the support of 55 members in a hung House. Her gesture was responded in Delhi by Ram Madhav, who described them positive vibes through media, pointing out that formal talks between the two parties would start soon.Insiders said the BJP has accepted some of the points handed over to it by the PDP in informal meetings, agreeing to a full six-year term to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed instead of rotation, status-quo on Article 370 till dialogue and discussion on it are concluded and an economic package to the cash- strapped state to rehabilitate flood victims. The talks are, however, stuck on PDP’s political demand for a time-frame on revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and renewing dialogue with Pakistan and separatists, initiated by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, but stalled by the Congress-led UPA. The BJP is claiming that past seven months, since coming to power, they have made armed forces accountable, referring to filing a case against nine army personnel, who allegedly killed two young man in November and also handing over life-time punishment to army men including a high-ranking officer for 2010 fake encounter in Machil sector.The Kashmir watchers here see Mehbooba scaling down her resistance to her father’s suggestion to align with the BJP in her statement when she said: “We have to see restarting of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s policy for restoration of peace and normalcy in Kashmir which was later abandoned by the UPA government. We have to ensure restart of the peace process as also the fulfillment of promises made by us to the people.” Observers laid much stress on her remarks that “For NDA government, it is a big responsibility for Modi, it is a big responsibility as Jammu and Kashmir has been the biggest challenge for any prime minister right from Nehru till date.” Touching up Modi’s “dream” of development and addressing the problem of unemployment, she said there cannot be “development till there is peace on the ground.” She noted that for peace in Jammu and Kashmir, Vajpayee had “started a political process.” She said: “Vajpayeeji had started dialogue with Hurriyat, he had started dialogue with Pakistan when L.K. advani was the deputy prime minister. We got generous economic package. UPA continued it for some time and then stopped it.” Her last line indicated that the PDP may be averse to tying up with the Congress for this reason if nothing else.A law graduate with a degree in Arabic as well from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Mufti was a face of India in Kashmir against Kashmiri nationalist approach of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, for over four decades, holding the distinction of longest-serving state unit Congress president as well.He resigned from Rajiv Gandhi cabinet in 1987 citing killing of Muslims in Meerat’s Hashimpura and Maliana localities. From being the face of Delhi, he switched sides in 1999, floating the PDP to give competition to the National Conference (NC), whose turn as representative of Kashmiri nationalist party had remain unchallenged.

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PDP praises Atal Bihari Vajpayee, drops hints of bonhomie with BJP