Engineer Sheikh Rasheed tells Saima Bhat how God’s grace, peoples’ support and Facebook helped him
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): In the Lok Sabha elections, you are seen as the major gainer from the north. How and why this change of heart at the last moment?
ENGINEER RASHEED (ER): I was expecting to win the seat still people think I am a gainer. This election made it clear that one cannot fight the elections on money and muscle power alone. Your ideology, sincerity, commitment, and dedication pays you back in the long run.
I had an idea that people will vote for me but unfortunately, the state-sponsored boycott was witnessed in certain areas. The call was influenced by government machinery, political motivation and they spent money as well. In the absence of boycott, you could have witnessed a bigger surprise than this. But I am satisfied. People who wanted to dislodge me from Langate have been replied by people. They were told that power is not in your mansions at Gupkar, in civil secretariat, north or south blocks but it is with the commoners in Karnah, Kupwara, Uri or anywhere.
I had no intention of contesting as I had no money and no party structure. Initially, I tried the political parties NC, PDP, Sajad Lone with a common minimum program. I met Dr Shah Faesal as well but he was in a dilemma. Then I thought I have to fight now. I decided to contest at the last moment.
KL: But how did you get a mandate in five segments?
ER: Lead in five assembly segments is not going to change my political ideology. Since 2009, I have been going to Chenab and Pir Panchal Valleys, Keran, Gurez and continued these visits despite BJP government stopping me, as Omar did earlier. I don’t think that I am an MLA of one constituency or my presence is to one place only but our sufferings, sorrows are the same and we have to jointly look for the solutions.
I led five segments but I was runner-up in four segments as well. It is very encouraging and we will continue to look for the alternative platform where we can talk of the problem of Kashmir, and governance; where we can tell India and Pakistan that it is important to look for the solution of 15 million people’s problem.
This was my and my team’s 10 years of consistency and hard work. I tell you with authority that had there been no boycott, history would have changed. I could have got almost 2.5 lakh more votes.
After God’s grace and people’s support, my third thing in campaigning was my Facebook page that three 3 lakh people follow. I am in contact with my followers and this helped me reach out to the places and people which I could have never imagined.
KL: Analysts say you got bulk of the first time voters and also the emotional vote?
ER: I am a small player, but if you are honest and follow your conscience, people will recognise you. I was beaten on roads, inside the Assembly, in Rajouri, and Baderwah. The ink was thrown at me in Delhi; NIA arrested me; I was lodged in police lockups; for Afzal Guru’s clemency, I was sent out of the Assembly.
I started from Langate where I tell the youth that since they have chosen me, I will speak for them. I tell them to go to schools, and colleges and study. I tell them stone pelting isn’t going to help them. I tell them Kashmir issue needs to be talked in the assembly. I guess they have understood my arguments, so has the north Kashmir.
KL: Why south Kashmir did not vote?
ER: I tried to get all NC, PDP, PC on board; I told them Kashmir issue is a very big issue and we all are nothing in front of that. I went in a rickshaw to meet Madam Mufti, I offered her support. I met Sajad Lone at 3 am in the night. It was me who approached him but when I was disappointed with all the three parties, I filled my nomination form after getting disheartened by the response. I could have contested on all three seats but I did not. My analysis says at least 12 to 14 per cent people voted just because of me like first-time voters.
Had I fought from south Kashmir, the voting percentage could have increased by at least eight per cent. But then I thought maybe people will think I am there to increase the voting percentage so I decided to fight from the north only.
NC, PDP don’t speak for Kashmir; they talk Delhi’s language in Kashmir when they were supposed to talk of Kashmiris in Delhi. People have lost their trust in politics. I am hopeful in coming Assembly elections; AIP will give a good alternative to people.
That change will alter the whole spectrum, unlike PDP that promised but failed. This change will compel India and Pakistan to talk on Kashmir. We will give a corruption-free government in a free environment without violations of human rights.
KL: Now the results are out and Narendra Modi is PM again. How do you see it vis-à-vis Kashmir situation?
ER: If people of India have voted Narendra Modi, we should accept it. For Kashmir, I told him last time when I met him in a one to one meeting on July 17 that he cannot suppress the voice of Kashmiris. Had muscle power worked then Modi could not have reached Delhi from Gujarat. Congress had suppressed him; he was not allowed to have even a visa. Had that worked, Modi would neither have been a minister nor even a Sarpanch. But I told him if only muscle power was a yardstick then he would not have been anywhere. Truth is the truth. Truth is that Kashmir is an issue.
Pakistan is also responding. They have reportedly closed down the camps of Salahuddin; nobody talked of that in Kashmir; local militant camps were also closed which may have annoyed their Kashmiri well-wishers. If they did all these things then Modi should also move two steps ahead. If Imran Khan is buying enemies in Kashmir and limited Masood Azhar’s work, which in a way is fruitful for Pakistan as well. If their gun culture stops, it becomes the responsibility of Modi as well to respond like a statesman. He has been elected by the largest democracy. He has the responsibility to consider Kashmiris as humans too and listen to what they want to say and look for the solutions. I think it is too early to say something but I hope a good sense will prevail. In today’s world, nothing remains hidden.
KL: You have faced accusations of being Delhi’s man and you are the only lawmaker who was taken by NIA?
ER: It is very easy to label anybody in Kashmir. Just yesterday, somebody on social media had written that Er Rasheed talks of a plebiscite but got 1491 votes from Army’s 3000 postal votes while as BJP got 500 and 141 went to Sajad Lone.
It is the level of frustration. They have lost the plot. It took me 10 years to make people accept what I say. I proved political analysts and some media houses wrong who accused me of being an Indian agent and a Pakistani. Till yesterday, they would call me a one man’s show but now I have one lakh people with me. Had I been an Indian or Pakistani agent I would have been under 24×7 security. Agents can’t visit people at 2 or 3 am; they cannot have public gatherings at 3 am. I guess people have replied to them and I don’t want to respond now.
Delhi also called me twice and asked if I was getting money from Pakistan. This time I fought and held campaigns and went to Jammu twice just only to tell people, who were saying I am from agencies, that you are wrong and only money is not needed to be in people’s heart. It was people who gave me Rs seven lakhs and I fought on that. I wanted to give them a message including Delhi that Er Rasheed is nobody’s man. If earlier Pakistan was paying me then who paid me this time. I have dashed their theory and buried it undertones of soil. It is people’s mandate and I hope Delhi will also respect the people’s mandate and they will provide political space to each and everybody in Kashmiri, be it pro-resistance or mainstream camps.
KL: Why did army vote for you?
ER: They voted for me because I have said a mother does not know if her son is a soldier or a militant, she just knows he is her son. I have talked about it in the Assembly as well that don’t kill innocent children. I have said that the Kashmiri problem should be solved so that we don’t have to take more coffins. By having these bodies in flags of India, Pakistan or anybody else won’t ease the pain of mothers. It is an honour for me that Baramulla’s highest literary person, Khalid Parvez said he cast his life’s first and last vote for Er Rasheed. Is he a traitor who fought his life for this movement? In my constituency, one person votes for me and his son was killed in 2005; I want to ask people who pass on decrees, give these people fatwa. I can have dozens of cases whose sons have been killed but they voted for me. The army gave me a vote because they know I speak for them.
Mehbooba Mufti should die of shame that last time she got such a great mandate and now she is on 3rd position in south Kashmir. This election was her funeral from north Kashmir. I have sympathy for her. I feel for her but she should have apologised people. These are not enterprises opened by their families that no other person should come forward. Let people decide.
I won’t be surprised if tomorrow NC and BJP will form a government in the state. You will see how these people will pass on decrees that time but we have to save people from that.
KL: This election was fought and won on a threat to Article 370 and 35 A. But many people say there is nothing much left in these two special provisions?
ER: It is a silly argument. If there is nothing left but we still need to protect it. Let us protect what we have and fight for what we deserve or what has been snatched. This election being fought on these two issues is partially correct and partially incorrect because the issue is much bigger than 370 and 35A. Kashmiris fight is not for Article 370 or 35A. This was a ploy played against Kashmiris by Delhi and sorry to say we were not ready. Delhi’s work was done; they achieved what they wanted.
KL: You were supported by Shah Faesal and Ghulam Hassan Mir; is there any alliance with them for assembly election as well?
ER: I am thankful to both of them. Mir sahib gave a statement and supported me but Faesal just put a status on social networking site that my vote for Er Rasheed just three days before elections. They did not campaign for me. Maybe if Faesal sahib would have campaigned it could have created more impact. Alliance for assembly, it is too early to say anything about that.
KL: How do you see many new parties coming up in Kashmir division only and not in Ladakh and Jammu divisions?
ER: This is Omar’s personal imagination. Politics is the battle of ideas and people will obviously go to the group they trust. By saying this we challenge the wisdom of people. People have a right to make parties and break parties which have been said by Omar as well. Even PDP also said the same; maybe both of them were hinting towards me but let people decide. Sheikh sahib was also there, people were against him as well. Geelani sahib also fought and people rejected him that time. Why it was not wrong then? Why there was not a division then? Something is there which they are hiding. Why are they afraid of Er Rasheed or Shah Faesal? NC and PDP should introspect why NC came down from 60 to 15 seats. This time NC did not even project a candidate in Jammu. This party has lost the regional character.
What new parties they are talking about? AIP is there for the last five years. Had I joined NC, I would have been a minister for the last nine years. Do justice with me at least. The person who was beaten by police, inside and outside Assembly, at least they should not ask me this question. Shah Faesal is there, they should respect him because he left IAS, which is not an easy step. Don’t interpret me wrong, it is their self imagination. Let us be honest, PC is there since 1979, that is not a new party, we can have differences with Sajad but certain facts are there which we cannot ignore. We can say he deviated from Lone sahib’s ideology but we cannot say it is a new party.
KL: How do you foresee the fate of assembly elections, is it going to be further delayed or they will be conducted anytime now?
ER: It does not impact me much. If they don’t do it, it is better because the world will come to know that India is not able to handle Kashmir. By not conducting elections, India will be negating her own propaganda.
KL: Are you satisfied with the Governor’s administration then?
ER: This administration is failing on the ground. Look at the condition of roads, it is June and electricity of far-flung areas is nowhere; corruption is on its peak; secretariat is in mess and people are suffering. Administrators cannot run the show alone, civil secretariat remains vacant. Kashmiris are feeling disempowered in bureaucracy, in civil secretariat and we want KAS and KPS, who have been reduced to nominal presence, should be given the position they deserve. IAS and IPS positions should be minimised here; we need to ensure that till permanent solution comes, the local officers should not be dislodged.
KL: What is the immediate priority for all political parties in Kashmir?
ER: For me, priority is to reach out to people and call spade a spade. Power always comes with responsibility. If they want to be CM let them be but it is their responsibility how to get all parties together but they don’t make any efforts. They should make efforts for unity. I am always open for discussions; I can go anywhere for the people of Kashmir.
KL: What are your suggestions to the new BJP government?
ER: Don’t dictate terms to Kashmiris. Don’t underestimate their power. Give them space and allow them to talk and don’t allow only agencies to handle Kashmir. It is a political issue let politicians do it.