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Engineer Rashid Triumphs in Baramulla Despite Terror Funding Charges, Defeats Omar Abdullah

Jailed politician Abdul Rashid, charged with terror funding and lodged in Tihar Jail, managed to defeat former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah in the Baramulla constituency. The political tremors of Rashid’s unexpected victory have seeped through the political landscape denoting a deep dissatisfaction amongst the Kashmiris regarding the state and central governments.

Abdul Rashid, also known as Engineer Rashid, has spent five years in jail since his arrest by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Despite that, he managed to win from behind bars, going on to become the first mainstream Indian politician to achieve such a feat.

Rashid’s campaign was led by his sons, Abrar and Asrar Rashid, who hit the streets, holding rallies and public meetings to drum up support for their father. Recalling the campaign, Abrar Rashid said, “In the beginning, it appeared as if I was standing all alone, but the support we got from the people across Kashmir made me understand that the people of Kashmir are standing with us. My father has been a voice for the people and he has always represented their case within and outside the assembly.”

This result comes as a strong message for the political establishments in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and at the centre. The decision of the voters only underlines one thing – widespread discontent and the urge for change, which indicates that there is a strong wish and hope among the Kashmiris for new leadership and change in the direction.

Even though the win in Baramulla for Rashid was a spectacular achievement, the National Conference(NC) managed to keep hold of constituencies such as Srinagar and Anantnag. Results like this show that there is a spectrum of political feelings in the region, where some parts are still in line with the older parties like the NC, while other parts are accepting new aspirants like Rashid, who is a far cry from traditional politics.

Omar Abdullah, the National Conference’s vice president and former Chief Minister, congratulated Rashid. “It’s time to accept the inevitable as the voters have spoken. Congratulations to Engineer Rashid on his victory in North Kashmir. While his legal situation might not change, the democratic choice of the people must be respected,” Abdullah tweeted from his X handle @OmarAbdullah.

Rashid received 3,12,588 votes against Omar’s 1,68,213. Sajad Lone of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference received 1,07,863 votes.

Baramulla went to polls on May 20, the fifth phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Most importantly, this is the first election post-August 2019 abrogation of Article 370 of Jammu and Kashmir, which bifurcated the state into two union territories.

The Kashmir valley has seen the highest voter turnout in the last 35 years, with a 30 percentage point increase in participation when compared to 2019.

Engineer Rashid, the two-time MLA from the Langate constituency in North Kashmir, was in jail. His contest as an independent was supported by his sons on the ground who managed to marshal massive public support, leading to the unexpected victory.

As Rashid continues to be behind bars to serve his sentence, his victory is also a testament to the very complex dynamics of Kashmiri politics and an electorate’s willingness to throw its weight behind leaders they think can champion their cause—no matter how controversially they live their lives.

Rashid’s victory is symbolic in more ways than one of the deep-rooted issues that are still guiding voter behaviour in Kashmir today and is expected to also set the ball rolling for some serious internal assessment and maybe even strategy change for political parties both in J&K and at the Centre.

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