The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sherwani buttons up flying saucers

Srinagar, Nov. 1: Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is having the last laugh.

The People’s Democratic Party chief will wear his 20-year-old sherwani along with the Kashmir crown tomorrow, but the king who took pleasure in needling him would have lost his throne and his “flying saucers” as well.

Since Mufti’s ascension to the hot seat, the tables and the jokes have turned on former chief minister Farooq Abdullah. The National Conference leader, who never missed an opportunity to say that Mufti “would never get the chance to wear the sherwani he got tailored 20 years ago hoping he will wear it on the day he takes oath as chief minister”, now finds himself at the receiving end.

The latest joke doing the rounds is that Mufti has made it but Farooq has lost it: that is, his “flying saucers” or the Beechcraft and the choppers at the disposal of the chief minister.

The irony was frontpaged in a cartoon in a local daily recently. The cartoon showed a desperate Farooq looking longingly at the state-owned aircraft and singing: ‘Chal ud jaa re panchi, ki ab yeh desh hua begana’

Sixty-seven-year-old Mufti has dreamt of handling the top job since he joined politics in the sixties under the guidance of then chief minister Khwaja Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq. He shares his love for golf with Farooq, but is otherwise a down to earth politician who keeps his eyes and ears open all the time.

Mufti’s single-minded pursuit of his goal, backed by unflinching support from daughter Mehbooba, will be fulfilled tomorrow when he takes oath as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

His journey has been difficult. He challenged the power of the legendary Lion of Kashmir, late Sheikh Abdullah, at a time when he was the “heartthrob” of his people. “Mufti could not dismantle the gigantic political edifice of the Sheikh, but he definitely succeeded in chipping it,” says a Kashmir observer.

The Congress established a foothold in south Kashmir districts in the late sixties and early seventies chiefly because of Mufti’s organisational capabilities. In recognition of this, Rajiv Gandhi inducted him into his Cabinet as tourism minister.

In 1989, Mufti became Delhi’s first Muslim home minister after he parted ways with the Congress over the Bofors controversy.

and joined V.P. Singh’s crusade against the alleged corruption and nepotism in the deal.

Within only three years of its formation in 1999, Mufti’s PDP has uprooted the 70-year-old National Conference from its strongest bastion --- the Kashmir Valley --- and presented itself as a viable alternative to the people.

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