Unexpected Triumph: Engineer Rashid’s Electoral Victory Alters Kashmir’s Political Trajectory

Syed Taqui Haider

Srinagar: Engineer Rashid’s surprising victory over political stalwart Umar Abdullah in Baramulla constituency has reverberated throughout Kashmir’s political landscape. The unexpected outcome challenges conventional wisdom and signals a profound shift in the priorities and aspirations of the valley’s voters.

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In 2019, Abdul Rashid, popularly known as Engineer Rashid, was booked by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA on charges of his alleged involvement in a terror funding case. He is lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail.

Despite this, he had previously won from the Langate segment in Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency as an independent candidate in 2008 and 2014 Assembly elections.

“While voting in mainland India is often influenced by factors such as religion, caste and money, Kashmir exhibits markedly different voting patterns, driven by considerations unrelated to these factors,” remarked Rasik Bin Altaf, a student of area politics.

He emphasized that Kashmir’s voting trends reflect a resurgence of grassroots spirit, where considerations like money and caste hold little sway.

Engineer Rashid’s victory, while celebrated as a triumph of democracy, may signify more than just that. His triumph cannot be divorced from the fact that he contested against the former chief minister and president of the National Conference.

“We have had enough from the family,” expressed Arif Pandit (name changed on request), a resident of Baramulla. “The youth is much more aware and better informed. They want to stand for something real, and Rashid is that ray of hope.”

He emphasized, “It was very clear for all of us. I saw the elderly and infirm walk to the polling booth this time. They were very sure who they were voting for. He is our man; we know him. Abdullah never had a chance here,” he concluded.

The erosion of trust in the ex-chief minister is glaringly evident with the significant difference of more than 2 lakh votes this time.

Rashid’s Incarceration Strikes a Chord in Kashmir

“Engineer Rashid has projected an image, which resonates more genuinely with the public because it aligns more closely with their sentiment. He has addressed issues concerning human rights as well as basic amenities like roads, electricity and water during his time in power, which the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have failed to do,” commented a student who requested anonymity.

Rashid’s time in jail has deeply resonated within the Kashmiri community. Many see him as one of their own, advocating for grassroots issues unlike Abdullah. “There is an emotional connection to what Rashid stands for; many believe he remains untainted by the murky side of politics and doesn’t play a double game with Kashmiris, unlike Abdullahs and the Muftis, who haven’t done enough for locals,” remarked Zubair Kashif, a student pursuing graduation in Delhi.

Women’s Participation

The election witnessed a significant increase in women voters, reshaping the political landscape. Women emerged from their homes, queuing for hours to cast their votes for him. Such enthusiastic participation among women is unprecedented in the valley.

“My wife and daughter were more eager than me to cast their votes. They reached the polling booth first thing in the morning,” Pandit shared.

Unlike past hartals and strikes, this level of participation has not been seen before for various reasons. Women voted empathizing with Rashid’s imprisonment, while also viewing voting as an opportunity to amplify their freedom and sense of agency. They felt empowered to express their opinions and exercise their rights.

“The women came out to vote because they felt the pain of a son who has been away from his father for five years,” stated Rashid’s younger son Asrar, who spearheaded the campaign on his father’s behalf. He expressed gratitude for the empathy shown by the women of Baramulla.

The Subaltern Speaks

In a union territory long gripped by hate and violence, a democratic revolution holds paramount significance. True nationalism must stem from the voices of the people.

After years of electoral boycotts, individuals have set aside their disillusionment and returned to the polling booths. Asrar emphasized that politicians should refrain from demonizing Kashmiri voters.

A similar level of participation was last witnessed in 1987, during Farooq Abdullah’s reappointment as chief minister.

“This resurgence offers hope to our people. Fed up with boycott politics, many are now eager to engage in the electoral process, seeking to choose their own representatives,” he reflected.

Hopes of the Family

Throughout the election rally, Rashid’s family received overwhelming support from the masses. According to sources, the entire rally cost no more than Rs 27,000.

Asrar confirmed the warmth and empathy of the people, who voluntarily joined the rally with their bikes and cars. “We felt our father’s love,” he said.

Engineer Rashid has been separated from his family, serving a five-year prison term. The news of his interim bail for the oath ceremony brings hope for his release to the family, as well as a longing for justice in many other households, and a desire for social development in the valley.

Electoral Victory or a Cry for Help?

Under the UAPA, several undertrials languish in prisons, making elections a means to bring their plight to the public eye. A source, speaking anonymously, recalled the 1987 elections when the Muslim United Front’s candidate stood from Srinagar, evoking a similar fervor among voters. “I am glad to witness it again,” he remarked.

The valley demands recognition for its voices. Elections are now seen as an avenue to amplify the voices of candidates behind bars. In 1977, George Fernandes, elected from Bihar’s Muzaffarpur during the Emergency, was released from jail before his oath-taking ceremony, setting a precedent.

Does Engineer Rashid Stand a Chance?

“When Abrar, Engineer Rashid’s elder son, addressed the masses, he emphasized that only the people’s vote could give his father a chance to serve and bring development,” Asrar explained, adding, “People empathize with the plight of the family.”

Kashmiris hope for brighter days ahead, marked by development, justice and improved living standards. They anticipate progress in employment, healthcare and education, as well as robust infrastructure to bolster the state’s resilience.

True democracy in Kashmir hinges on the acknowledgment of its people’s voices. Electoral success should not be mistaken for a resolution but recognized as a plea for understanding and action — a collective stride towards a better future.

(The author is a freelance journalist)