With the passing away of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the people of J&K have lost a true friend and leader and the country, a staunch nationalist. Mufti sahab had a deep sense of compassion for the people of his state. In his first stint as Chief Minister of J&K in 2002-2005, his actions were guided by his conviction that his people needed a "healing touch", something that influenced many if not all of his major decisions. Some of the decisions were contrary to the recommendations of his advisors like me. That is how it is with decisions that leaders have to make - if proved right they enhance their stature, if not they could be judged as foolhardy even Tughlaq-esque!
Mufti was concerned that people were greatly inconvenienced because the national highway between Jammu and Srinagar remained open only during hours of daylight. It was necessitated by the fact that the security forces were just adequate to ensure safe conduct of traffic on that vital link by day; at night, the strength of troops required for the task could be threefold or more. So when he asked me why the road could not be kept open all 24 hours, I detailed the rationale, substantiating it with statistical data and tactical necessity. He seemed convinced at the time, but a few days later, he mentioned to me that he had decided that the road should be kept open 24/7. An announcement made to that effect was greatly appreciated by the people. As days went by, the Chief Minister was proved right. There was no trouble on the highway. When we met next, he explained to me that it was an essential step for his "healing touch" policy.
Our first meeting had gone quite badly. After he took over as Chief Minister, I suggested to the Northern Army Commander (and my immediate superior) that it would be useful to arrange a briefing of the new CM on the security situation. A briefing was accordingly arranged, but somehow it did not go down well with the CM, and instead of beginning well with the new administration, we were set a few steps back. I was embarrassed by the outcome of the meeting and felt almost obliged to do some damage control. Fortunately for me, a close confidant of the CM, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, was a good personal friend even before he joined active politics. Through his good offices, I requested Mufti sahab to dinner at my residence. Baig sahab broke the ice and the evening was spent in a very convivial and congenial atmosphere. A visibly relaxed CM spoke candidly and in earnest about how he wished to set about fulfilling the mandate that his people had given him. That was the first time I heard him mention the need for a healing touch. That was the beginning of an extremely fruitful association, a close rapport even bordering on friendship.
The Army operated at the grassroots level and had a clear grasp of the needs of people living in various parts of the Kashmir Valley. Our people-friendly operations went well with Mufti sahab's people-centric approach. He was open-minded about receiving suggestions to improve matters at the ground level, particularly in remote and far-flung areas. With his support, the Army was able to execute many a welfare project as part of its Sadbhavana mission. Where the Army was not deployed, other security forces including J&K police took up similar missions. It was a win-win situation; we were all winning hearts and minds, each to fulfil their own objectives. Where there is unity of purpose, the combined strength becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The credit should rightly go to Mufti, the man at the helm.
Our last meeting took place nearly a year ago. He had given a call the previous day asking if we could meet the next day at Mumbai. Mufti was on a visit to the metropolis, in his own words, to relax and to think about his future plans. We hugged each other as old friends and we sat down for breakfast; I was amused to see him enjoying typical Maharashtrian fare! I then asked him about the unexpected missive. It was a time when after elections to the state assembly, there was furious debate between the main political parties on the formation of the government. He said that he wanted my views on whether his party should join hands with the BJP and if he should agree to be the CM.
To state that I was utterly surprised does not truly grab how astonished I was, and I told him so. I reminded him that he was talking to a soldier who was completely unqualified to speak on matters political. In his kind and pleasant demeanour, he insisted that it was for that very reason that he had asked me to come. He said he wanted an unbiased and frank opinion. I mentioned that while I knew precious little about politics, I was certain in my mind that J&K needed someone who carried conviction with people and whom they trusted. I mentioned that possibly, it was his destiny to serve the people of his state. At this point, his family members chipped in and explained how, on account of his poor health, they were initially opposed to his taking on the heavy responsibility but had realised that perhaps that is what he wanted most of all: another chance to serve his people. His daughter who was visiting from Chennai mentioned how my views had in fact corroborated what Mufti sahab felt deep down in his heart. As I bid goodbye, I said to him that J&K needed him and that God will give him the strength to leave behind a legacy of honest service.
I regret the personal loss but feel satisfied that Mufti did what he always wanted to - serve his people till the last. Alvida my friend, you gave your today for Kashmir's tomorrow.
(The writer is a former Corps Commander of the Srinagar based 15 Corps)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.