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Emergence Of Engineer Rasheed

Kashmir Opera

Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor

When the recently elected Parliament member Engineer Rasheed joined the mainstream politics of Jammu and Kashmir about fifteen years ago, hardly anyone expected that in about a few years, he would turn the tide of local politics in such a way that the old and traditional political parties would feel threatened or defeated by him, that too when he had been in prison for the last five years. His student son campaigned for him.

Two major mainstream political parties, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, are fighting for their survival and credibility after the BJP government in Delhi scrapped internal autonomy and degraded the once-princely state of JK in 2019. They have been under a barrage of propaganda campaigns for being dynastic clans of the erstwhile state.

Engineer Rasheed has been imprisoned on charges of terror funding of militants, the charges of which are still unproven. His party is fragmented, his children are young, and his family struggles to make ends meet. There was no clear-cut policy for running his election campaign. Despite so many odds, it was not in anyone’s imagination that he would win the LokSabha seat with hundreds of thousands of votes and create a new storm in Kashmir politics. Engineer Rasheed did not defeat the two heads of political parties but beat them with a huge margin of votes.

The results shocked political parties. Since then, there has been considerable internal turmoil among the mainstream political parties in Kashmir, which are already fighting for their existence in the face of intense criticism from their voters and propaganda from the ruling BJP at the centre.

People are unhappy with Jammu and Kashmir’s traditional politicians’ performance and policies. According to one of the political activists, ‘the main political party, which had a solid voter base and popularity, never considered the people’s sentiments but kept its stronghold on power, exploiting the separatist ideology in the Valley’.

Meanwhile, the BJP has focused on establishing new leadership in JK and propagated the idea that dynastic politics is responsible for all the woes in Jammu and Kashmir. ‘Art 370 of the Indian constitution was considered a hurdle in the integration with India that was exploited by the dynastic politicians’. National Conference and People’s Democratic Party have denounced the allegations and blamed the BJP for raising religious hatred to disempower the Muslim majority in Kashmir. It has succeeded in India by not fielding a single Muslim candidate, and neither gives any representation to the fourteen percent Muslim population.
The media reported that the PDP and Democratic Azad Party not only promised to support Engineer Rasheed in the Parliamentary voting but also encouraged their voters to support him. Watching his epic public rallies organised by his son, they thought their defeat was imminent. Both parties tried to gain sympathy by supporting the incarcerated former legislator to save them from humiliation.

When Engineer Rashid’s son suddenly announced that he would submit his father’s nomination papers for his candidature, most people and political parties were sure the Indian government would get his papers rejected. Surprisingly, this did not happen.

Some opposition parties spread the news through the media that, like SajjadLone’s People’s Conference, AltafBukhari’sApni party, and GhulamNabi Azad’s Democratic Azad Party, the BJP has also blessed Engineer Rashid because, contrary to expectations, BJ P had not fielded any candidate for the three LokSabha seats in the valley but openly supported other candidates except NC and PDP ones.

One reason could be the compulsion of the BJP not to field a Muslim candidate in a Muslim-majority area, which would go against its anti-Muslim policy and prove counterproductive to its campaign, and the other reason is that despite five years of working at the ground in JK, the ground has not been smoothed for it, which could have led to its defeat. It would have been interpreted as a wrong policy to remove Article 370, which the BJP has been boosting in the election campaign in the other states of India.

Can Engineer Rasheed’s sudden entry be considered a new BJP strategy in the election?

This question is on the mind of every Kashmiri today. The BJP government is in complete control of JK. Who should talk? Who would contest the elections and get a seat in the mainstream? The BJP has all the rights reserved for it. In such a situation, was Rasheed a new strategy? Was it to contain the NC and PDP?

This question is tricky to answer. There are no clear indications of whether Engineer Rashid is BJP’s Project B. Most parties under Project A have yet to deliver anything on the ground. The precise situation will emerge only after the announcement of the assembly elections.

Engineer Rashid’s son adopted an unusual strategy during the election campaign. He asked to vote to get his father released. Some commentators say that since Rasheed has interpreted public sentiments and thoughts in the past, the public blindly voted for him.

One might recall that Engineer Rashid repeatedly raised his voice for the right of self-determination on the assembly floor after winning the elections. Will he be able to play a leading role in the LokSabha with the same spirit that India did during its independence movement from the British Empire, or does he want to adopt the Scottish model and make his voice more effective on the democratic platform?

However, political scientists express their disarray and say that Indian democracy has little space, and Engineer Rasheed will not be allowed even if it had followed the same path.

Social activist Raja Farooq says that the ‘BJP government has done a lot of homework to change the mindset of some freedom fighters over the last several years. Most of them have been imprisoned in jails for decades. They have been pressured to abandon the Azadi movement, and hopefully, many plan to participate in the assembly elections.

Apart from Engineer Rasheed’s entry, AzadiPasands factions, and Jamaat-e-Islami’s desire to contest elections, there is also a rumour that MirwaizUmer Farooq’s Awami Action Committee is planning to participate in the coming elections. BJP will continue its strong support behind the scenes by fielding some candidates.

Suppose such an electoral scenario emerges or is strategised in Jammu and Kashmir; in that case, it will not only be difficult for the old and traditional parties to win the franchise, but it will also start the end of dynastic politics in Jammu and Kashmir, as the BJP promised.

[Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor is an Author and Journalist. Countercurents.org]

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Vol 57, No. 1, Jun 30 - Jul 6, 2024