I first became well acquainted with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed
after he became Chief Minister for the first time, in 2003.
I was first inspired by Mufti Sayeed, with an interaction with senior public figures in 1975, when the question was posed during a social gathering I attended “is there a way people in rural areas can ever be helped and have the same access to healthcare as in urban areas”?
When Mufti Sayeed took over as Chief Minister, I wanted to try and answer this question for Kashmir. I had, by that point, spent over 20 years working as a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon in the United Kingdom, where healthcare is uniform and equal to all regardless of where in the country they are located. I wanted to make this possible for my Kashmir as well. It was an immense ambition that would require immense political will.
During my first meeting with Mufti Sayeed during a visit back home, I enjoyed a warm and attentive reception. His enthusiasm to work with me in developing this concept, what I had called ‘taking healthcare to the periphery’, shone through from the outset. It became my privilege to offer frequent advice and support on matters involving upgrading health services and medical education during my frequent visits back home to Kashmir; I was delighted to help, and he was always delighted to listen. Together, I believe we were starting to make a real difference, but as ever there was always more work to be done.
We developed a dialogue that lasted many years, and began to envisage ideas for developing a new system of healthcare, in particular with regard to the imperative of better Nursing Home provision and the introduction of modern joint replacement facilities.
Throughout, I was impressed by his leadership skills and his passion to make Jammu Kashmir a better place following many difficult years. He was a man of absolute integrity and a man who always put concern of people first.
Mufti Sayeed recognised clearly the folly of presuming that what would work in other states of India would necessarily work in Jammu Kashmir. He understood that those communities most affected by the conflict and by instability were those requiring greatest focus; those were the communities where inability to access routine health care was leading to premature death through ill health and disease.
Above all, he recognised that these basic healthcare goals should form the bedrock of a just and civil society.
It was my delight again to meet Mufti Sayeed after a gap of 10 years shortly after he began his second tenure as Chief Minister. By this point, I had retired as a practising surgeon and had just been elected myself as a politician in the United Kingdom – as the Conservative Party Regional Assembly Member for South Wales West.
Our rapport had endured over the years and we very quickly began discussing how we could both work together and make best use of the resources available to continue in the goal of bringing ‘medicine to the periphery’.
I had recently become involved with a ‘Cycle Responder Unit’ programme back in the UK, where the leading UK First Aid Charity St John Cymru Wales equipped highly trained volunteers with bicycles kitted out with emergency medical equipment including defibrillators so they could arrive quickly on the scene of a medical emergency that conventional vehicles would struggle to reach.
I had immediately seen how a similar scheme could benefit ‘the periphery’ in Kashmir, and was greatly enthused to share this with the Chief Minister. Last summer, we discussed how in this case, Jammu Kashmir had the potential to be an exemplar for all of India in developing this as ‘best practice’ and I had looked forward to working with him and his team of advisors in determining how we were to introduce this.
I had noticed, however, that during what turned out to be our final meeting, the Chief Minister appeared to be in a hurry. I had always known him to be a man who wanted to get things done; this time, it was different. There was a degree of urgency to his every action and request that I had never previously encountered.
I got the impression that the wheels of governance could not turn fast enough for his liking. Time had become the overriding priority. With hindsight, it is as if he knew that for him, this was now very finite and there was not a second to waste. He gave nothing of this away at our last meeting, but it all now seems very clear to me.
It is therefore all the more tragic that Mufti Sayeed has passed before this particular project could begin take-off. We owe it to his legacy to continue this work, and I have no doubt that his daughter Mehbooba Mufti, to whom I send my deepest condolences at this dreadful time, will share the commitment and dedication of her father in working to improve the wellbeing of people in Jammu Kashmir, should she become Chief Minister.
I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to meet her and hope to work side-by-side in the continuation of the footsteps first trodden by her exceptional father, to continue improving health services for the people of Jammu Kashmir.
Let us once more begin at the periphery and strive so we can answer the question posed of rural areas some forty years ago, in the affirmative.
The author is a Kashmiri doctor based in England and is member of Wales Assembly. He can be mailed at Dave.Jenkins@assembly.wales