Two funerals and their telling contrast



As lakhs of people participated in the funeral procession of the departed Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, Kashmir couldn’t but sit up and take notice. Eleven months earlier when the Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed passed on, fewer people attended his funeral. What is more, unlike Jayalalitha’s funeral, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi  didn’t bother to visit, paying his tributes from an antiseptic distance in New Delhi, nor was any other Chief Minister in attendance.  And Mufti was no less in stature as a politician than Jayalalithaa. For around 50 years he was an influential regional and national level political player who had played an instrumental role in negotiating Kashmir's troubled relationship with New Delhi and New Delhi’s with Kashmir.  But for all this overarching stature, Minister Mufti died a modest death. He wasn’t  even visited by the PM for all the fifteen days that he was admitted at AIIMS, a slight only further highlighted by Modi’s air dash to Chandigarh during the same time to visit the ailing Prakash Singh Badal. Only Home Minister Rajnath Singh was sent to attend the funeral.


This left the daughter and the current Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti seething, becoming one of the alleged reasons for her refusal to take power for the subsequent three months.  Kashmir carried on as a matter of course as Mufti was laid to rest at the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh's garden near his hometown Bijbehara.  The mourners were in hundreds. More embarrassing for Mehbooba was that on the same day that Mufti died, thousands participated in the funeral of a local militant killed in an encounter.   Mufti’s lifetime of public role as a central political figure was thus no match to the local reverence for a youthful militant.


This is why the lakhs of  mourners  in Jayalalithaa’s funeral has become a subject of debate in Valley and on social media, people are citing it as an eye-opener for the mainstream politicians in Kashmir.


Last great funeral of a politician in Kashmir was  that of National Conference founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in 1982.  A throbbing mass of mourners followed his coffin on its last journey, with the then prime minister Indira Gandhi in attendance.   But ever since, no mainstream leader in Kashmir has commanded any following in his death. This includes Sheikh’s wife Begum Akber Jahan who passed in 1999 and his son-in-law Ghulam Muhammad Shah, a former Chief Minister, who died in 2009. However, on Akber Jahan’s demise, both the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Deputy Prime Minister  L K Advani visited Srinagar, something that Modi didn’t do. Funerals have been very significant to Kashmir. They not only indicate the popularity and the stature of the leader but also the future direction of the state’s politics. If anything, the stark contrast between Jayalalithaa’s  and Mufti’s funeral not only reveals an inherent lack of credibility with his people of a mainstream politician in Kashmir but also the current central dispensation’s disconnect with the state, even while BJP is a part of the coalition government in the state. 

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