Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, chief minister of troubled Indian state Jammu and Kashmir, has died aged 79 following multiple organ failure. The astute leader passed away at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in capital New Delhi, where he was undergoing treatment for pneumonia.
Sayeed, an ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kashmir, was admitted to hospital on 24 December 2015. This is the second time he had become chief minister of the Indian-administered Kashmir. He took charge in March 2015, after he ruled the province between 2002 and 2005.
His body will be buried in his ancestral hometown Bijbehara. As a mark of respect, the federal government has declared a day of national mourning while the state government has declared seven days of mourning for the province.
Modi paid tributes to the leader before Sayeed's body was taken to Srinagar, capital of Jammu and Kashmir. "Mufti Sahab provided a healing touch to J&K through his leadership. He will be missed by all of us. Condolences to his family & supporters," Modi wrote on Twitter.
Sayeed's daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, 56, is set to take over as the chief minister after him. The People's Democratic Party (PDP) that is leading the coalition of which the BJP is a junior partner in the state, has said: "As far as PDP is concerned, we are unanimous that Mehbooba shall succeed Mufti Sahib." Although the daughter of Mufti is widely considered a hardliner compared to her father, the coalition is likely to last.
Sayeed, a passionate leader for Kashmir's autonomy and one of India's well-known Muslim politicians, has often come across as a moderate alternative in the only Muslim-majority state in India. This allowed him to share power with the right-wing BJP despite strong criticism from several corners.
In the assembly elections that took place in December 2014, PDP secured 28 seats and BJP won 25, with no party crossing the majority 44-mark. The coalition government led by the PDP was billed as a landmark one at that time in Kashmir, which has been at the centre of a bloody conflict for several decades.
Political leaders in Delhi would be keen to see that Sayeed's death does not bring more instability to the volatile Kashmir region, over which India and Pakistan have fought two major wars. Sayeed's demise has also come at a time when there are mixed signs between the nuclear-armed neighbours, both of whom claim total control of Kashmir.