Almost three decades ago today, on 23 March 1987, an election was held in Jammu and Kashmir that would come to be considered a watershed moment in the history of the state. The elections, conducted only four months after the swearing-in of the chief minister Farooq Abdullah, were reportedly rigged in order to prevent the central government from losing control of the state’s politics. Contesting in the elections were Abdullah’s Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC), the Indian National Congress, and the Muslim United Front (MUF), a coalition of Islamic parties that had come together in 1987, and which would, many predicted, perform well in the polls. It is widely agreed that the repression of the popular will in 1987 played a part in setting off the waves of militancy that flooded the state in the years that followed. Many of those who joined the militancy were MUF supporters who saw armed revolt as the only way forward. The MUF leader Muhammad Yusuf Shah would take on the name Sayeed Salahuddin, and rise to head the Hizbul Mujahideen. His election manager from 1987, Yasin Malik, would go on to head the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, a Kashmiri nationalist organisation.
In 1987, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was the senior-most Congress leader in Kashmir. In his January 2016 cover story, a profile of Sayeed, Praveen Donthi explored how Sayeed became the centre’s man in the state. But Sayeed, Donthi writes, had always wanted to be named chief minister. In the following excerpt from the story, Donthi recounts the events leading up to the elections, and the part Sayeed played in the outcome.
In 1986, after the locks of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya were opened, riots broke out in some parts of the country. While Kashmir was largely undisturbed, violence did break out in one district: Anantnag, Sayeed’s stronghold. Here, a number of temples were desecrated, and houses of Pandits were attacked.
During my reporting, I heard allegations that Sayeed himself had organised this violence. Yusuf Jameel, a senior Kashmiri journalist, who covered the riots, told me he heard that “Congress was behind it because they had problems with GM Shah and wanted to get rid of him.”
“An atmosphere of insecurity was created against Kashmiri Pandits,” I was told by Ghulam Hassan Mir, one of GM Shah’s defectors in 1984, who later co-founded the PDP. “Mufti saab was behind it,” he added. Pandit community leaders I met in Jammu concurred on the question of Sayeed’s involvement. “Mufti engineered the riots,” Ajay Kumar Chrungoo, chairman of Panun Kashmir, an organisation of exiled Kashmiri Pandits, told me. He claimed that the Congress “constituted a committee that indicted Mufti, but the report was never made public.” Monga, the current vice president of the Congress in the state, said, “Mufti wanted to be the CM,” and that he “had an understanding with Gul Shah’s MLAs,” who agreed to support him. “He was building pressure,” Monga claimed. “Had the central leadership agreed, he would’ve been the CM.”