May 2019 News

Engineer Rashid Emerges As Kashmir's Biggest Winner After Lok Sabha Election

27 May 2019
Sameer Yasir

Srinagar: For his adversaries, Engineer Sheikh Abdul Rashid is a 'dramebaaz', a scripted actor in a scripted play. In the last session of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly when he jumped into the well of the Lower House to protest killings and rampant human rights violations, political bigwigs burst into laughter. He looked, as they privately would often say, 'like a joker'. Not anymore. Rashid, 51, a former MLA from Langate constituency in north Kashmir, stunned everyone by polling 1,01500 votes as an Independent candidate from Baramulla parliamentary constituency, 31,192 votes behind the National Conference's winning candidate, Akbar Lone and 827 votes less then his rival Sajad Lone's Peoples Conference. What Rashid has done, most importantly, is to ruin the dream of Lone, who until recently was hoping to become the chief minister by winning key seats in the same north Kashmir block. Lone was considered to be chief ministerial material with just two seats in his kitty in the last Assembly elections that had made him, in the political circles of Jammu and Kashmir, a force to reckon with. But no one had guessed that the man with a black SUV, a driver and a personal assistant, and without committed workers, buntings, tents and, most importantly, without money, would take on such a mammoth political grouping like the Peoples Conference and National Conference, as he has done in the just-concluded Lok Sabha election. 'I have come here to tell you that I have no money and no friends in Delhi. They jail me and throw ink on me. BJP says I am Pakistani. National Conference says I am a sellout. PDP says I am the man of agencies and the Peoples Conference says I am joker,' he told one gathering during the run-up to the General Election, as crowds held mobile phone torches in their hands in the middle of the night in north Kashmir's Palhalan village, where mainstream political parties still hesitate to hold public meetings. The crowd in front of him erupted into applause. The election results have been encouraging. Rashid is leading in five constituencies of north Kashmir including Karnah, Langate, Uri, Baramulla and Tangmarg, putting him in a head-to-head fight with the National Conference, come the next Assembly election. These leads have dampened the plans of Lone's Peoples Conference that was hoping to pocket more seats in the next Assembly election to help its ally, the BJP, in coming to power in the state again. It was not for nothing that some people travelled from as far as Dubai to vote for Rashid. A majority of his supporters are the disgruntled youths of the Valley. 'I have boycotted every election. I voted for the first time today and it was for you,' a middle-aged man told Rashid recently in presence of this reporter, 'Even if you don't win, you talk about us and we will vote for you always.' It is this 'us' that has earned such a respectful place for Rashid's rhetorical politics. He talks about right to self-determination. India, Pakistan and militants in the same breath. He talks about dialogue with militants and that New Delhi should solve the Kashmir issue. It is here that he connects with the youth. He says he talks about conflict resolution because he doesn't want 'any mother to lose her son, no soldier to lose his life and no militant to be sent to the grave'. His messages, often broadcast on social media, strike a chord with commoners, particularly the youth. When they voted for him, most of them took pictures of their inked fingers and send them to 'our leader'. That he is not rich, doesn't have any security escort, roams around freely and doesn't carry the arrogant demeanour of a politician, connects him instantly with the youth of Kashmir. It is this sort of political connect that has been missing in the Valley for a long time. Rashid, who is chairman of Awami Ittehad Party (AIP), has measured the pulse of the youth. He uses Facebook to keep his followers and admirers updated, even when he was arrested during the Narendra Modi visit to Srinagar. The video was watched by more than a million people. His street agitations, his arrests and his sloganeering reverberate on Facebook. His videos get hundreds of shares and thousands watch them. In absence of any financial backing, he literally ran the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign on his Facebook page. That perhaps explains why out of 3,500 services votes in the constituency, Rashid took 1,491 votes. It also explains why two sisters from the Raja dynasty of Uri, who should have voted for the Peoples Conference candidate Raja Aijaz Ali because he too belongs to the same caste, travelled from Dubai to vote for him. 'I'm extremely thankful to Facebook without which this would all have been impossible. This is just a beginning of change in Kashmir. And it is not any other party but AIP that has become a force to reckon with,' he says.