Chief Minister’s Death a Big Loss for Kashmir: Locals

Amin Masoodi
160107-IN-sayeed-620 Mourners carry the coffin of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed during funeral prayers in Srinagar, Jan. 7, 2016.

Residents of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir are mourning the death of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, saying they lost a legendary leader who strove for peace and development in the troubled region.

“His demise is indeed a huge loss to the people of Jammu and Kashmir yearning for the restoration of peace and resolution of the Kashmir conflict,” Abrar Ahmad Malla, a social activist from Baramulla district, told BenarNews.

Sayeed, 79, who died in a New Delhi hospital on Thursday after suffering from sepsis, decreased blood counts and pneumonia, had led a state government that only took power in predominantly Muslim J&K 10 months ago. Sayeed had been hospitalized in New Delhi since Dec. 24, according to media reports.

The state government he headed was forged through an alliance between his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party that also heads India’s governing coalition.

The PDP-BJP coalition, however, was tested in its first months in power by some unilateral decisions made by Sayeed, such as his decision to free imprisoned Kashmir separatists, a move that angered BJP leaders.

“Despite strong opposition by BJP, Mufti went ahead with his program of releases of political prisoners in the state soon after he took to power last year. Kashmiris will badly miss his services,” Naseer Ahmad Malik, a post-graduate student from Srinagar, told BenarNews.

Sayeed’s daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, is likely to be sworn in sometime in the next few days as the first woman to serve as chief minister of the state, a senior People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader requesting anonymity told BenarNews.

Following the death of Sayeed, who had also served as India’s home and tourism minister during a political career that spanned six decades, the state government announced seven days of mourning in his memory.

Top politicians across India paid tribute to Sayeed, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had reportedly clashed with him last year over the issue of the release of political prisoners.

“He will be missed by all of us. Through his leadership, Mr. Mufti provided a healing touch to Jammu and Kashmir,” Modi said in a message posted on Twitter.

A challenge for ‘relatively inexperienced Mehbooba’

Nonetheless, tensions between the state’s coalition partners linger and it will not be easy for Sayeed’s successor and the late leader’s party, the PDP, to resolve these issues with the BJP, according to a political analyst.

“On some contentious issues including the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, release of political prisoners from jails and abrogation of Article 370, there are serious ideological differences between the coalition partners,” analyst Noor Mohammad Baba told BenarNews.

The act gives Indian security forces sweeping powers, including allowing personnel to make warrantless arrests, to enter and search any premises, and shoot any suspect. Article 370 grants special autonomous status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The state encompasses the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, a Himalayan region disputed by India and neighboring Pakistan since 1947, and which has been in the throes of a separatist insurgency since the late 1980s.

“In such a situation, it will be challenging for relatively inexperienced Mehbooba Mufti to head the coalition government in the state. But the alliance will continue as both BJP and PDP would suffer a political loss if any of the two partners withdrew support,” he added.

Baba said it would be interesting to see how Mehbooba would handle the BJP over such contentious issues in her father’s absence.

On Thursday evening, Mehbooba’s father was laid to rest with full state honors in his hometown of Bijbehara, in south Kashmir Anatnag district.


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