Saturday, June 22, 2024

First-time voters in Kashmir rally for jailed leader, sparking new political activism 

Engineer Rasheed’s son Abrar holds a rally in support of his jailed father in Behrampora, the village of Rafiabad on 17, May 2024. The Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency is going for polls on 20 May. Photo: Shafqat Khursheed/Maktoob

A new wave of political activism is sparking through the region of north Kashmir with incarcerated Sheikh Abdul Rasheed, 57, aka Engineer Rasheed, witnessing overwhelming support of people especially first-time voters who are even funding the basic campaign expenses.

Since his party, Awami Ittehad Party (AIP) founded in 2014 not registered with the Election Commission of India (ECI), former legislator Rasheed, presently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, filed a nomination as an independent candidate for the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat on April 29 and since then his sons Abrar Rasheed and Asrar Rasheed have been campaigning on his behalf.

“On our first day of campaigning, I felt apprehensive as I was alone without my father, however, as the days went by, a sea of people joined me in my rallies, giving me the assurance that people across Kashmir were supporting us,” Abrar said in a rally.

“Our campaign did not incur any expenses, as everything from posters and banners to petrol was generously provided by volunteers. People even went as far as offering water, fruits, and juices from their stores.”

As the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency is all set to go for voting on May 20, AIP ended its campaign on Saturday with a massive rally in Sopore, Baramulla. Abrar being at the forefront saw an unprecedented number of people rallying with him who regarded Rasheed as a symbol of resistance.

Nadeem Ahmad Najar, 27, a rally attendee from Sheeri, Baramulla while expressing his passionate support for Rasheed said, “I will vote for Er Rasheed because he is the only politician who has spoken for our rights, which is why he is in jail today.”

Rasheed’s popularity among the youth was evident in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when he secured an impressive 1,02,168 votes in the Baramulla constituency, just 30,000 short of the winner from the National Conference. 

Expressing extreme anticipation for election day, Nisar Ahmad, 28, has temporarily shut his business to attend Rasheed’s election rallies and vows to reopen his shop only after casting his ballot in favour of Rasheed.

“I support Er Rasheed because he has always spoken for us,  he has been there for Kashmiris. Though he is in Tihar, he is still in the hearts of Kashmiris,” Ahmad told Maktoob.

Engineer Rashid, a vocal advocate of human rights violations, hailing from Langate Kupwara, was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in August 2019 just two days after the abrogation of Article 370, being the first mainstream leader to be arrested. Rasheed was charged with terror funding under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) but hasn’t yet been convicted.

“I filled petrol in my vehicle during rallies from my pocket and printed out his posters as well, I did all this to support him because I believe if he is voted to power he will advocate for our youth who are currently imprisoned,” says Mushtaq Ahmad, 40, a resident of Sopore.

Supported by Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Progressive Azad party, Rasheed is contesting a tough fight against the National Conference backed Omar Abdullah, Sajad Gani Lone of the People’s Conference and Peoples Democratic Party candidate Fayaz Ahmad Mir.

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