#VictoryInJandK: Engineer Rashid’s Unexpected Win Shakes Up Politics

Rashid’s victory is being seen as a clear expression of the popular public sentiment against the revocation of the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir.

Abdul Rashid Sheikh alias Engineer Rashid, who has defeated former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, is the only political leader from Kashmir who remains incarcerated for over five years following the revocation of the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir. Rashid has won by a margin of over two lakh votes from Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency.

The 57-year-old politician was imprisoned in 2019 after the National Investigation Agency charged him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Rashid, a former two-time MLA, contested as the Awami Ittehad Party’s (AIP) candidate. He founded the AIP in 2013. His sons, Abrar Rashid and Asrar Rashid, campaigned for him for just a week ahead of fifth phase of polling on May 20. During their campaign, they had urged people to avenge Rashid’s arrest with a vote, “jail ka badla vote se.”

Rashid had unsuccessfully contested the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Interestingly, Rashid’s rise in politics has been as spectacular and dramatic as his victory in this general election. Rashid resigned from his job as an engineer in the Public Works Department to contest the Assembly election from Kupwara’s Langate constituency in 2008.

In an interview with this reporter in 2009, Rashid had stated that he had campaigned for just two weeks as an independent candidate back then. According to him, it was the people of Langate who wanted him to represent them in the Assembly. Even at that point in time, he said, he was elected due to popular apathy towards the mainstream political parties. A recent editorial in a Kashmir based local daily, Kashmir Observer, described Rashid as a “symbol of resistance against the status quo”.

Hitching a motorcycle ride

Always dressed simply in a Khan suit even when he was an MLA, Rashid would be spotted travelling in public transport or even hitching a ride on a motorcycle. Rashid came to prominence after he organised protests against the ‘begaar’ system under which security forces would subject the residents in his constituency near the LoC with Pakistan into forced labour.

Earlier in 2005, he was arrested for three months on the allegations of supporting militants. He is said to have been a close associate of slain Hurriyat leader and founding president of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Conference, Abdul Gani Lone, father of Sajad Lone. Incidentally, Sajad Lone was also in the fray on the Baramulla seat.

In 2015, Rashid was thrashed by the BJP MLAs inside the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly for hosting a beef party in a government guest house. He had justified his act as a protest against cow-vigilantism and incidents of lynchings. Two weeks later, ink and mobil oil were thrown on him on the Press Club of India’s premises in New Delhi in reaction to his statement demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s apology over mob violence in Dadri and Udhampur.

Unconventional MLA

According to Mohammad Sayeed Malik, a Srinagar-based senior journalist and political commentator, his victory is a clear expression of the popular public sentiment against the revocation of the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir. “Unlike Sajad Lone, both Omar Abdullah and Engineer Rashid were opposed to the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35 (A). At the microscopic level, Rashid got the sympathy vote because he remains in jail for his ideological position on what was unilaterally done to Kashmir on August 5, 2019,” Malik told Frontline.

Malik added that the BJP wisely chose not to field its candidates on all three seats in Kashmir including Anantnag-Rajouri, Srinagar and Baramulla.

A street-fighter, Rashid is said to be the most unconventional MLA that the people in Valley have seen to date. He has been at the forefront of protests against human rights violations in Kashmir and has been beaten up by the security forces and detained on several occasions.

Pervez Majeed, a resident of Kupwara, who teaches journalism at Srinagar’s Amar Singh College, lists the reasons that created a massive sympathy wave for the firebrand leader. “Seen as a people person, he is someone known for leading an austere life and enjoys a clean image. He has always fought for issues of public interest even beyond his Assembly constituency. As an MLA, he never enjoyed the official privileges such as government security and vehicle,” Majeed told Frontline.

Engineer Rashid has not been allowed to talk to his family over phone since January this year, a family member said. Congratulating Rashid, Omar Abdullah posted on X: “I don’t believe his victory will hasten his release from prison nor will the people of North Kashmir get the representation they have a right to but the voters have spoken and in a democracy that’s all that matters.” Engineer Rashid is currently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. Source

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