The Rasheed Rise


Even before his arrest in 2019 in a money laundering case, Engineer Rasheed, the two-time lawmaker from Langate, was gaining a lot of acceptability and influence across Kashmir. He polled a decent share of votes in 2019. In 2014, however, he emerged as the new master of north Kashmir after he defeated two big shots, reports Syed Shadab Ali Gillani

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Er Rasheed addressing during a press conference.

Post-1975, Kashmir has evolved a dictum on its own. Every time, trends get invisible, people start believing the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) will win. It happened this time too. It eventually proved right but at a discount. The party’s soldiers sailed through but the commander fell.

Omar Abdullah’s victory was sure as long as he was pitted against Jammu Kashmir Peoples Conference (JKPC) Chief Sajad Lone. As Lone’s arch-rival and his father’s protégé, Engineer Rasheed appeared on the scene, the situation shifted: Omar ended a runner-up and Sajad a distant No 3.

Unlike Omar and Sajad, Abrar Rasheed, 23, the jailed Engineer’s son, led a short campaign. The two bigwigs engaged in blame-game, and mudslinging, Abrar told people he respects both and has nothing against them. The two had their promises to make but the student politician had nothing to offer. His was a simple plea: if you could vote for my father, who had represented the people twice in the assembly, there is a possibility that he may get freed after five years and be able to represent Kashmir in the parliament.

It clicked. On June 4, Kashmir created history when they elected a politician to the Lok Sabha while in Tihar prison, a space that has been very well-known in Kashmir for decades. Omar’s defeat in the contest was seen as icing on the cake even though the sections within the policymaking in Delhi disliked the outcome. Abdul Rasheed Sheikh popularly known as Engineer Rasheed, has been languishing in jail since 2019. His student sons ran a powerful nail-biting campaign at almost no cost and succeeded in winning with a historic margin. Once the campaigning ended, he drove to Srinagar and started preparing for the examinations, due a week later.

Rasheed’s was the only one with no direct support from any local or national political party. With no other big name associated with the party, Rasheed fought like a lone wolf and eventually emerged sort of a ‘dark horse’ in Kashmir politics, a character liked by people and hated by the privileged within and outside Jammu and Kashmir. His election to Lok Sabha is said to have thrown a spanner in the narratives and the discourses.

Rasheed’s participation is seen as a factor for boosting participation. In the 2019 elections, the pre-redrawn segment polled 34.71 per cent. However, in 2024, there was a paradigm shift as the constituency recorded 59 per cent. In the 2019 parliamentary elections, Rasheed stood third, with a little over 1,000 votes less than his JKPC rival Raja Aijaz Ali and around 31,000 votes behind the winner and JKNC leader Akbar Lone.

The Campaign

While Rasheed is in jail in an NIA case investigating the money laundering – he has moved a bail application for oath taking, his two sons, Abrar, and Asrar, led the campaign for his father.

With the energetic campaign and catchy chants evoking the spirit of previous separatist demonstrations, Rasheed’s participation in the Baramulla contest was interpreted as a sign of defiance against a majoritarian government. However, the fact that Engineer’s campaign has drawn support from residents who were disenchanted with major political parties and were part of the earlier “boycott politics” is a testament to the integrity of the democratic process.

Insiders in Rasheed’s Awami Itehad Party (AIP) said the campaigning was not an easy task. They revived the party’s earlier virtual footprints and ensured the physical outreach.

“When he (engineer) first joined politics he took to Facebook to campaign. But after he was arrested, we did not shut down the page rather did our best to keep it active,” one family member said. “That page came to our aid during this campaign as well. Initially, the engagement was modest, but with each passing time, the engagement started getting better. Our videos and posts started garnering views and likes in huge numbers. The local social media influencers also supported by sharing our content and our social media campaign started reaching out to more people.”

Right now, the AIP’s page has more than three lakh followers. “We decided to make Abrar the centre of the campaign. We had WhatsApp groups too through which we shared our posters and banners. We used to just take out a single car or vehicle for campaigning but people supported us on their own, we did not spend any money on them. People voluntarily managed everything through their expenses,” a close family member of Engineer’s said. “Our campaigning was organic. We did not hire any agents to gather any crowd. Rather people joined voluntarily. Our people did not even have the total amount of money to be paid as the security deposit; we were Rs 3000 short of the total amount. And when we were presented with the checklist, we had kept the security deposit pending since we did not have that kind of money.”

According to the relative, the jailed leader had sent an amount of Rs 15000 to buy a mobile phone for his son. “Rasheed sahib worked as a Sevadar there in jail and started saving money for his son’s mobile phone. Abrar had asked for a phone in 2019. Since Rasheed sahab was arrested he could not buy him a phone, so he started collecting and saving money in jail, we used that amount in our campaigning as well. I think the total amount of money that we used in our campaigning was just Rs 27000, the rest we did not even spend a penny.”

Interestingly the entire Rs 27,000 corpus was spent on fuel alone. “Thousands of volunteers contributed to campaigning and ensured a massive victory.”

The ‘Peoples’ Man’?

A writer in Baramulla, who voted for Rasheed said the only reason he voted for the jailed leader was because of how ‘worthy’ he was. “Out of all the people who were contesting from the Baramulla I think Engineer was the most genuine one,” he said. “He has always been involved with the people, helped people in need and always lived a simple life. I once went to interview him back in 2019 and I was surprised at how approachable he was, no security, no questioning and he met me with great respect.”

On the day of voting, he said he visited several polling booths to ask people who they were going to ultimately choose and almost all of the people took Rasheed’s name. “He has created that space for himself by helping people. He has supported the education of many. He has helped in withdrawing cases against many. He has participated in protests demanding justice for the people in need.”

Women from North Kashmir voted for Rasheed because of the emotional connect. “We voted for him because we want him out of the prison,” a group of women from Bandipora who voted for him, said in unison, “all of us can resonate with him and his family.”

This was precisely why Abrar’s campaign and rallies were spectacular. Apart from people joining the rallies, would spare time to visit their family.

“I saw people coming from across Kashmir to just meet and greet Abrar. This campaigning brought Engineer’s name back to life,” a media student from Bandipora said. “We had long ago forgotten about him but now he created history, not just in Kashmir, but in the whole country. Now national media is also profiling him, international media has started writing about him. That is his craze right now,”  The student believes that the Lok Sabha election campaigning has made a hero out of him. “The people of Kashmir have spoken through him, his victory I mean.”

During the campaigning period, a PhD scholar walked from Shopian, in South Kashmir to meet Rasheed’s family in Langate. Mudasir Thoker, walked barefoot from his residence to campaign for the jailed leader. He walked for more than 114 kilometres just to show his unwavering support to Rasheed, who he considers the voice of the people.

Thoker’s belief in the leader stemmed from his personal experience in 2016. “There was a recruitment scam and Rasheed sahib assisted us and helped us in protesting against the same,” Thoker said. “I will support him with all of my energy.”

“Engineer Sahab is presently the champion of the people and it goes beyond doubt since his victory was declared we have been receiving people from across Kashmir congratulating us, showing us their support,” Prince Parvaiz, AIP’s Secretary General said. “Even in Jammu, there were celebrations just because Rasheed Sahab won.”

With people’s support and belief, Rasheed won the contest even without his physical presence. He managed to defeat two political bigwigs, a former Chief Minister and scion of the powerful Lone family of Langate. Interestingly, Rasheed was also the follower of Sajad’s father, the slain Hurriyat leader, Abdul Gani Lone.

Rasheed polled 472481 votes. Omar got 268339 votes, Sajad 173239 votes and PDP’s Fayaz Mir bagged only 27488. It was a huge elevation for a two-time lawmaker who represented Langate in the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir assembly.

The contest in Lok Sabha is between four candidates including Omar Abdullah, Sajad Gani Lone, Engineer Rasheed and Mir Mohammad Fayaz. The segment goes to polls on May 20, 2024. KL Illustration by Malik Kaisar

The Controversy

Rasheed’s victory was visible during the campaigning only. However, it was the massive presence of the young population that was being mistaken as a crowd of non-voters and “senti” people. After the Election Commission of India announced the result, it indicated a clear unease in the political class too.

Omar’s tweet in which he conceded his defeat while congratulating Rasheed on his win also mentioned, “I don’t believe his victory will hasten his release from prison nor will the people of North Kashmir get the representation they have a right to but the voters have spoken and in a democracy that’s all that matters.”

Sajad Lone accepting the defeat also tweeted: “With all humility at my command I accept defeat. And it is time to congratulate Engineer Rashid. I wanted to make a difference. I thought we should be empowered economically, socially and politically to be able to make a difference and be counted. We had suffered a lot in the past 30 years and been robbed of all our dignity. The people’s mandate is supreme. I accept the people’s mandate with all humility.”

Legal Discourse

The winning politician has been in jail since 2019 for his alleged involvement in a money laundering case by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), becoming the first mainstream leader to be held under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Even though both the Engineer and his family have refused any involvement, the case is there.

The Supreme Court of India’s 2013 judgment significantly impacted the legal framework concerning the disqualification of sitting MPs and MLAs. The key case that led to this landmark decision is Lily Thomas vs. Union of India (2013). The primary issue was the constitutional validity of Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which allowed convicted MPs and MLAs to continue in office if they appealed against their conviction within three months and their appeal was pending.

The Supreme Court struck down Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, as unconstitutional.

The Court ruled that any MP, MLA, or MLC convicted of a crime and sentenced to a minimum of two years imprisonment would be disqualified from their position immediately. The Court emphasised that the disqualification would be automatic and would not be subject to any stay by the appellate court unless the conviction itself was stayed. The Supreme Court of India’s 2013 judgment specifies that Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) will be disqualified if they are convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment of two years or more.

This ruling does not apply to individuals who are under trial and have not yet been convicted.

According to Advocate Fizah Baba, an advocate at Delhi High Court, Engineer Rasheed’s case would not fall under this category as he is only under trial and has not been convicted. Under the law of the land, being under trial means that the legal proceedings are still ongoing, and a final judgment has not been reached. Therefore, if Engineer Rasheed had not been convicted and sentenced to a minimum of two years in prison, he would not lose his seat in the Lok Sabha based on the Supreme Court’s 2013 judgment. Disqualification under this ruling only occurs post-conviction and sentencing.

“So, unless Engineer Rasheed is convicted and sentenced to at least two years in prison, he would retain his seat in the LokSabha despite being under trial,” Baba said

Under-trial MPs and MLAs are those who have been charged with an offence but have not yet been convicted. They may be in judicial custody or on bail depending on the court’s discretion.

Under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), under trial individuals, including MPs and MLAs, can apply for bail. However, the decision to grant bail is at the discretion of the court, based on factors such as the nature of the offence, the risk of flight, potential tampering with evidence, and the threat to public safety.

Courts may impose conditions on the bail, such as surrendering passports, regular reporting to the police, or restrictions on travel. Under trial MPs and MLAs can also request permission from the court to attend parliamentary or assembly sessions.

The latest information available suggests that Rasheed has moved the court seeking interim bail for taking oath of office as MP. A Delhi court has asked the NIA to respond to his application. The application was presented to Additional Sessions Judge Chander Jit Singh on June 4, the day results were out.

Legal experts, including former Lok Sabha secretary-general PDT Achari, have pointed out the constitutional provisions allowing elected MPs to take their oaths despite being in prison. Achari cited Article 101(4) of the Constitution, which deals with the absence of members from Parliament without prior sanction.

The Man of the Moment

A diploma holder in civil engineering, this 56-plus skeleton of a person is a Leo and is a blend of separatism and mainstream politics. Till November 2008, he was an officer with JKPCC, overseeing various construction projects in Handwara. When he quit his job to contest assembly elections, he had only 17 days left for canvassing. Pitted against experienced political stalwarts like Shareefudin Shariq (JKNC) and Mohammad Sultan Panditpori, he was unsure of his victory. Till the results came out, no one from his family would talk to him. But when his victory was announced on the day of the results, he was hugged at the door of his residence by his father.

Er Rasheed, Javiad Mustafa Mir and Dr Shah Faesal addressing a press conference in Srinagar on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Engineer Rasheed was always an outspoken legislator and used to remain in the news for various reasons, triggering controversies and attacking almost everybody. From throwing away his security as a legislator or always wearing a traditional Kashmiri attire Pheran even outside Kashmir to organising a beef party, there was always some news revolving around Rasheed.

Having his unique style of attending public meetings, frequently travels to remote villages of his constituency, leading protests against excesses and human rights violations, visiting sites of ongoing construction works, and keeping the administration on their toes to ensure the increased pace of various development works, and then meeting groups of people that turn up at his home consume most of his time, he redefined the image of a lawmaker as a public representative.

Future Discourse

The victory has made Engineer a very popular politician across Kashmir. He had already his own following that had emerged during his two tenures in the assembly. Though he had made good inroads in north Kashmir in the 2019 polls, right now, he is the main political force who can claim to be representing north Kashmir.

His following, however, is scattered across Kashmir. Is this rare victory going to push AIP for a larger political gamble? With its ground-breaking win, all eyes are on the AIP. Talking about the future discourse of the party Parvaiz stated that the future of the party will be decided by the Engineer once he comes out. “Rasheed sahab will decide everything be it allying or like being an independent party, everything is his call. We are now planning for the assembly elections.” Parvaiz is positive that the incarcerated leader can be bailed out. “We are going to meet Rasheed sahab next week and we will discuss the further process with him and let everyone know.”

The emergence of Rasheed comes at a crucial time. The ruling BJP hates Congress and JKNC. It has already pushed PDP into an existential mode. Though in the last five years, the party encouraged newer political forces to emerge, the experiment had no very impressive results. Can a hugely popular Engineer fill the gap organically and emerge as the new Kashmir master?


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