When Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, the late chief minister of Indian-held Kashmir, died on January 7, my Facebook newsfeed was flooded with the news. The response from netizens was varied: Mufti’s demise was seen by some as an end of another collaborator while for others the occasion demanded being courteous to the dead under the ethical framework of Islam. Obviously, the PDP (People’s Democratic Party) being a ruling party in Kashmir has a good cadre base and it also garners support among certain sections of people, so there was some participation of supporters in the mourning for Mufti Sayeed. However, unlike the death of former chief minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in 1982, normal activity in cities and towns – and even in Mufti’s hometown, Bijbehara – remained largely unaffected on his demise.
What intrigued one, though, was the grotesque way in which some Kashmiri newspapers covered the event. There was a marked difference between the responses of people on social media and the way the press framed it. Many of the opinion pieces were picked up from Indian papers or news portals and, expectedly, most of these pieces were pro-Mufti and at times entirely hagiographical. In certain Kashmiri newspapers, editorials were brazenly unbalanced; one editorial even going to the extent of castigating those people who critiqued Mufti’s political legacy.
Surprised by this one-sided – and almost hagiographical – coverage about a politician whose career has not been as unblemished and positive as was being largely portrayed, I was immediately reminded of the author and journalist Glenn Greenwald’s timely pieces in Salon(17 December, 2011) and The Guardian (8 April, 2013) which he had written on Christopher Hitchens’ and Margaret Thatcher’s deaths, respectively. Greenwald’s argument is that private etiquette of not criticising a dead person’s actions does not apply to controversial public figures, particularly those “who wielded significant influence and political power”. According to him, we shouldn’t use misplaced moral precepts to undercut any valid criticism or balanced appraisal of a dead public figure.
In his Guardian article he argued, “Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter…hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death. When a political leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise be permitted but not criticisms.” Furthermore, he says, “If anything, it becomes more compelling to commemorate those bad acts upon death as the only antidote against a society erecting a false and jingoistically self-serving history”.
Taking a cue from Greenwald’s insightful opinion pieces, it is important that we counter the almost hagiographical coverage through which Mufti Sayeed is being deified and projected as a cherished leader of the masses and celebrated as a “beacon of peace”. Because if we do not counter it with ‘counter-facts’, we acquiesce to the construction of false history and by extension to the legitimisation of a political class propped and supported by the Indian state to entrench its control over Kashmir.
Some of the counter-facts that we need to put forth against the false history being constructed have already been compiled by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in a press statement released on Jan 9, 2016. It lists the seven bloody massacres that were carried out during Mufti’s tenure as home minister of India in 1990. It also highlights facts about his much touted 2002-2005 rule that found absolutely no mention in any newspaper: that apart from 1,784 civilian deaths, this period also witnessed “176 cases of enforced disappearances and 127 custodial killings” at the hands of Indian forces. That he had a big role in bringing the draconian AFSPA to Kashmir is not as surprising as his remaining remorseless even after well-documented evidence of AFSPA’s terrible consequences. TheCaravan magazine (1 January, 2016) in its biographical account of Mufti Sayeed quoted his close friend and veteran journalist Ved Bhasin, saying, “He [Mufti Sayeed] was happy with AFSPA because he consolidated his power”.
A disproportionate number of opinion pieces – written mostly by his close friends and admirers – condolence ads and obituaries projected Mufti as a “democrat”, but how he actively participated in palace intrigues and political coups becomes clear when we read objective accounts of his early career.
Mufti was instrumental in entrenching Indian occupation in Kashmir by facilitating the entry of the Congress party into Kashmir, first by splitting National Conference and then merging it with the Congress itself; by diluting – with the collaboration and connivance of pro-India politicians like GM Sadiq – certain essential provisions of the autonomy pact which Sheikh Abdullah had negotiated with the Indian union in 1952; and lately, by bear-hugging and shaking hands and facilitating the foray of the anti-Muslim, Hindu supremacist RSS into Kashmir.
Now, omitting these highly far-reaching actions and policies of Mufti’s political career in any commentary would be brushing them off as inconsequential, if not commending them. And by allowing unqualified adulatory discourse to go on un-encountered you guarantee the enshrinement of his political legacy as one of greatness, positives, and something worth celebrating.
Those who do not want counter-facts in public are attempting a false portrayal, a false history or as Greenwald puts it, demanding “a license to propagandise”.
Mufti might have had all the attributes of an accomplished politician – he was described variously as an astute statesman, visionary, secular, nationalist, consensus-builder, and sometimes as a “soft separatist” also – but that does not in any way excuse his grave sins.
First published in Kashmir Reader on January 22, 2016: http://kashmirreader.com/hagiography-false-history-and-the-counter-facts/