07/01/2016 8:50 AM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 9:42 PM IST

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Stalwart Of Jammu And Kashmir's Turbulent Politics, Dies At 79

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
JAMMU, INDIA - DECEMBER 2: Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed addresses a press conference, on December 2, 2015 in Jammu, India. Sayeed announced the decision of the State Cabinet to implement the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in the state, which is expected to benefit 1.19 crore people of J&K. (Photo by Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, a key strategist of the turbulent Jammu and Kashmir politics and a seasoned politician who took on the mighty Abdullahs in the state, passed away on Thursday at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, where he was admitted for the past 15 days, due to multiple organ failure. He was 79.

Sayeed, who had taken over the reigns of the state in March last year after the December 2014 Assembly polls returned a fractured mandate, breathed his last around 7:30 AM, Education Minister and spokesman for Government Nayeem Akhter told PTI. He was admitted after he complained of fever and chest pain. He was the chief of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is part of the ruling alliance in Jammu and Kashmir.

Sayeed was put on ventilator yesterday after his condition had started to deteriorate. Doctors at AIIMS diagnosed him with sepsis, decreased blood counts and pneumonia. He was in the Intensive Care Unit of AIIMS and during hospitalisation his platelets had dropped dangerously low.

Sayeed is survived by his wife, three daughters and a son. His daughter and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti is likely to take over as the next chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir -- the state's first woman leader to hold the office.

The mortal remains of Sayeed would be flown to Srinagar today and the body kept for people to pay their last obeisance. He is likely be buried in his ancestral village in South Kashmir.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and former state CM Omar Abdullah met the family in hospital and paid their last respects.

"He was known for his love for common people, especially the underprivileged. Mufti Sayeed ji had a wonderful understanding of complex issues pertaining to J&K. He wanted to bring permanent peace to the Valley," Singh said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled Sayeed's death and said his demise left a huge void in the nation and in J&K. "Mufti Sahab provided a healing touch to J&K through his leadership. He will be missed by all of us," he tweeted.

Condolences poured in from senior political leaders who have known Sayeed through his career spanning six decades.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi said the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the entire nation has lost a great leader.

Sayeed, the country’s first Muslim Home Minister, was a member of the Indian National Congress party until 1987 which he quit to join VP Singh's Jan Morcha.

He founded the People's Democratic Party in 1999.

Recalling Sayeed's association with the Congress party, Gandhi said his contribution as a "humanist and to public life in various capacities will forever be remembered." BJP President Amit Shah said he was "deeply saddened" on hearing the news of Mufti's death as he called him a "rare politician."

"Many condolences to his family and supporters in this hour of grief," Shah said.

Deputy Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Nirmal Singh said the state will miss Mufti in its governance and political pursuits.

"Contribution of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to Jammu and Kashmir and India through long years of public service will always be remembered," said President Pranab Mukherjee.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted: "Just heard the terrible news of Mufti Sahib's passing away. I'm shocked and deeply saddened. May he rest in peace."

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 the SP College in Srinagar. He went on to get a law degree and Master's degree in Arab History from the Aligarh Muslim University. A keen bridge player, Sayeed joined the Democratic National Conference of GM Sadiq in the late 1950s.

He served as CM for two terms - 2002-2005 and 2015-2016.

He emerged as a rival power centre to the 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 in the VP Singh government 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.

He is the second J and K Chief Minister to die in office, the first one being Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who died on September 8, 1982. Jammu and Kashmir government has declared a seven-day mourning and holiday today. Flags will be flown at half mast.

(With inputs from PTI)

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