Filling The Gaps

Analytics of Electing Engineer Rashid And The Interpretations Offered

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BASHIR ASSAD

The overwhelming participation of the people in J&K in just concluded Lok Sabha elections stands as a watershed moment, redefining the region’s socio-political fabric. While presenting potential opportunities for peacean, the record voter turn-out unleashes a complex interplay of forces with multifaceted implications. The final outcome of the election to the 3 seats of Kashmir region has ignited a tinderbox of conflicting emotions and is intricately woven with both hope and potential pitfalls.Attempts  to revive  terrorism south of Pirpanjal in Jammu region and the abrupt spurt in terrorist   activities merely a week after the formation of new government in New Delhi are both highly complex and sensitive topics, generating diverse  reactions.

The election results of the three high profile Lok Sabha seats of Kashmir region where the National Conference of Dr. Farooq Abdullah won two and the Baramullah seat was won by the jailed political leader Er. Rashid. It is crucial to delve into the intricacies and evolving dynamics surrounding the election results, which could certainly have an impact on the upcoming Assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir.

Electoral drubbing faced by two former Chief Ministers, Mehbooba Mufti from Anantnag-Rajouri constituency and Omar Abdullah from Baramullah seat is certainly an articulation of the sentiment by the people of Kashmir and the election results is a trajectory of the political theories and alignments shaping the electoral landscape in the region.

For the first in last 35 years, elections in Kashmir were held without any boycott call by the separatists and their terrorist arms. Allegations of administration was “biased and partial” apart  It could be argued that,  in a way, this was the first election held in last 35 years literally  in a free and fair atmosphere.

The region’s record voter turnout for Parliamentary elections 2024 reflects the mood of the larger majority. Kashmir is witnessing an enormous shift from anti-democratic expression to pro-democratic sentiment.

There is a strong undercurrent for participatory democracy, as the region has been without elected government since June 2018. The huge turnout showcases the willingness of the Kashmiris to repose faith in the democratic system, redefine the political ambitions and aspirations. This report analyses the key stakeholders, potential scenarios, and critical considerations for ensuring a stable and inclusive political process.

Few Takeaways

The just concluded Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir alongside the nation presents a very complex picture which needs in-depth analysis.

No Going Back To Separatism

One of the most talked about electoral wins of Lok Sabha 2024 has been the candidate from Baramulla constituency in north Kashmir Abdul Rashid Sheikh, popularly known as Engineer Rashid. He defeated former chief minister and political titan Omar Abdullah.

What makes his victory so distinctive is the fact that Rashid has been in Tihar Jail in Delhi for the last five years on charges of terror financing. His campaign was entirely managed by his sons Abrar, aged 23 and Asrar, aged 21.

Rashid’s win has been analysed by media houses within the country and abroad. There is an opinion that Engineer Rashid’s win could revive the separatist politics in Kashmir.

This is a flawed argument which could not hold water.

Those who attribute the win of Engineer Rashid to separatist politics ignore the broad spectrum of reasons that led to his victory.  Separatist politics isn’t among those reasons. As hinted at, there is a strong urge for the participatory democracy in the region and disillusionment with the separatist politics and secessionism. There is fatigue among the larger population with the prolonged violent conflict. However, this does not mean that the separatism has completely vanished from the horizon. The ideology is very much there so are the ideologues with the only difference that the ideology has lost the popular support.

The Langate MLA Charmed Kashmir

In 2008, Abdul Rashid Sheikh, a middle-rung government officer from Langate, a town in North Kashmir, decided to contest the Assembly elections as an Independent candidate. Government jobs are highly coveted in J&K. Nobody quits a government job to do politics. His family was aghast and refused to speak to him.

Abdul Rashid had done a diploma in civil engineering. He had just 17 days before the elections for his campaigning. Kashmir places great emphasis on education. Rashid became Engineer Rashid, and campaigned vociferously, promising to fight for the problems faced by the commoners. He defeated the political stalwarts of his area and was elected MLA.

How did the man from a small town in Kupwara become one of the most popular politicians of Kashmir? His success lies in his ability to stay a man of the masses.

Politicians across the world expect people to stand by them. Rashid stood by the people as one of their own, on issues that mattered to them. He financed the education of many poor and meritorious youth.

Always dressed in a simple kurta-salwar, popularly called the Khan suit in Kashmir, Rashid shunned the elitist ways of other Kashmiri politicians.

While other politicians of Kashmir moved with security and a cavalcade, Rashid remained the man next door. He mingled freely among people without any barricade of security. He interacted with them like a family member.

Rashid did not avail of a government vehicle and chose to move around Kashmir’s towns and villages in his private car. Even as a legislator, he was known to take the local bus like a commoner, and even hitch a ride with someone on a two-wheeler. He remained simple and approachable in his public posturing.

Rashid was always swinging between separatism and mainstream politics.

In many circles in Kashmir, it is believed that people with separatist ideology voted for Rashid, and that he got the dissent vote. It is true that Rashid garnered the vote of this section also. But his victory goes beyond this.

There are multiple reasons why the Baramulla constituency powered Engineer Rashid to the Parliament.

This is not the first time that Engineer Rashid polled a high number of votes. He had fought the Parliamentary election from the Baramulla constituency in 2019 too. At that time, he stood third, but the winner’s victory margin was thin. Rashid was only about 1000 votes behind People’s Conference candidate Raja Aijaz Ali, and around 31,000 votes behind the winner and National Conference leader Akbar Lone.

Voting in 2019 was 34.71 per cent.  The paradigm shift this time was the spike in the voting percentage, at 59 per cent.

Kashmir is a land of many colours – in landscape as also in shades of political opinion. It is erroneous to paint Kashmir monochromatic.

Elections to India’s powerful Lower House of the Parliament – the Lok Sabha – started on April 19 and finished on June 1. The three parliamentary constituencies in Kashmir recorded the highest voter turnout in three decades.

This was the first election in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India. Kashmir surprised the nation and all global watchers with the record-breaking high turnout.

Voting in capital Srinagar stood at 39.49 per cent. In the last Lok Sabha elections held in 2019, the corresponding figure was 14.43 per cent.

In the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, voter turnout was 54.84 per cent. In 2019, the figure stood at 8.98 per cent for Anantnag constituency.

Baramulla constituency recorded the highest voter turnout of 59.1 per cent. In 2019, the figure stood at 34.6 per cent.

The winners for the Srinagar constituency and the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency are hugely influential religious leaders of these respective areas. A huge Pir-Mureedi religious factor was visible in the result.

Engineer Rashid’s Politics: Swinging Between Mainstream And Separatism

Of the nearly 10 lakh votes in his constituency, Rashid polled 4,72,481 votes. That’s a whopping 45.7 per cent of the total votes polled in the constituency.

Some political analysts have concluded that Engineer Rashid’s victory will revive the separatist and secessionist sentiment in Kashmir. It is also believed that all boycott areas voted for Rashid, seeing him as a separatist leader in a democratic costume.

This is a simplistic assumption. Kashmir is never monochromatic.

Factors That Explain Engineer Rashid’s Win

The Sympathy Vote

As he fought elections from behind the bars and took on Omar Abdullah, the titan of Kashmir politics, Rashid rode the tsunami of the sympathy vote.

Late Campaign, Tidal Support: Strong Emotional Connect Over Social Media

Former MLA Shoiab Lone told mediapersons that his family didn’t have money to file his nomination, so his supporters pooled in money. “His win is the victory of our democracy,” said Lone.

Rashid’s sons Abrar and Asrar campaigned extensively for him. With tears in their eyes, they appealed to the voters to vote for their father so that he would be released from jail.

Thanks to his sons, Rashid rode Kashmir’s robust social media sector with high emotive appeal and built a strong connect with all Kashmiris.

Women and youths overwhelmingly voted in favour of Engineer Rashid. The sympathy factor played a huge role among the women of North Kashmir. He got the women’s vote because the strong emotional messaging of his sons. Interestingly, many women who had never voted before said they came to the polling booths because their children persuaded them to vote for Engineer Rashid.

Youths voted for Rashid in large numbers because his sons were able to build a connect with their collective perception of insecurity. Their videos and posts garnered views and likes in huge numbers. Many of Kashmir’s social media influencers further shared their content voluntarily, multiplying the outreach.

The Facebook page of Rashid’s Awami Itehad Party (AIP) now has more than three lakh followers.

Abrar Rashid said the family spent only spent Rs 27,000 on the campaign, to buy fuel for their car to go to the rallies. People came on their own.

Mehbooba Mufti’s Strident Campaign

It is wrong to assume that Engineer Rashid’s victory represents the ascendance of the separatist and secessionist sentiment in Kashmir.

For nearly 20 years, north Kashmir has been a peaceful region with low appeal for separatism. Barring a few Assembly segments, voting percentage in North Kashmir has always been significantly higher than South Kashmir. North Kashmir has also seen a good working relationship between the people and the Indian Army.

Meanwhile, Anantnag in South Kashmir has remained the stronghold of the separatist ideology for decades. The extremist and separatist ideology held strong roots in South Kashmir.

Since the abrogation of Article 370, Mufti and her daughter Iltija Mufti have been far more strident in denouncing the government. By this argument, Mehbooba should have won the lion’s share of the vote from Anantnag.

But it was not so. Mehbooba trailed in 14 out of 17 constituencies in South Kashmir. She lost by nearly three lakh votes to Mian Altaf Ahmad of National Conference.

Rashid’s sons were very calculated in their campaign. They never spoke of separatism or separatists. They only focused on the demand for the release of their father.

98% Voting In Village On LAC

A Kashmiri village on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with Pakistan has recorded the highest voting for Lok Sabha Elections 2024.

98 percent voting was recorded in Paul Shoker village (Banjra), Uri.

The village has 135 voters. 132 people cast their votes, taking the voting percentage to 98%.

Other villages on LAC also recorded heavy voting.

Churunda: 91 pc

Soni: 86 pc

Tilawari: 83 pc

Sukhdar: 82 pc

Thajal: 77 pc

Kashmiris have voted for peace, prosperity, and development.

Kashmir Is Now Defined By A Strong Pro-Democratic Expression

We are witnessing a massive transformation of Kashmir society. For over 30 years, anti-democratic representation of grievances and violence ruled Kashmir. But Kashmiris have left their past behind. They have made a huge shift towards a strong pro-democratic expression.

In videos recorded by media channels outside polling booths, Kashmiris in their 40s and 50s admitted that they had never voted before and were enthusiastic about voting this time.

These videos brought another startling truth to light. A sizable percentage of senior adults said they had never seen an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). EVMs were introduced in the country 1990s onwards in a phased manner.

Many seniors said that they remembered paper ballots only.

In the videos aired by the media houses, people admitted that gun culture had only damaged Kashmir and had not yielded anything positive. They said they trust democracy and the power of the vote to ensure development.

There is no question of going back to the violent era of the past. Kashmiris have realised that they must voice their grievances by participation in the democratic process.

The huge turnout for the Parliament elections reflects that Kashmiris are earnestly waiting for total inclusion in democratic politics.

There is no doubt that there is a strong thrust on development and normalcy in Kashmir. Like any dynamic political entity, Kashmir faces issues like unemployment, growth, security and other concerns. Since 2018, there has not been any elected government in Kashmir. After the pro-democratic shift, Kashmiris want an elected government.

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