Er Rashid's Candidacy Alters Baramulla's Electoral Landscape


(MENAFN- Kashmir Observer) Srinagar- As Abrar Rashid stepped into North Kashmir's Bandipora district for a roadshow on Monday, he found himself amidst a sea of supporters. Thousands of enthusiastic individuals, especially youth from diverse corners of the district, had gathered to hear Abrar's message and rally behind him.

Chanting slogans like Bandeporeok vote kas, Engineras beye kas (Bandipora will vote for, Engineer who else), Abrar addressed the massive gathering.

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26-year-old Abrar would have never thought of leading political rallies at this age, but he has decided to campaign extensively on behalf of his father – jailed Engineer Rashid – who is contesting from the Baramulla parliamentary seat as an independent candidate.

Baramulla will go to polls in the fifth phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections on May 20.

“We have started the elections campaign from 7th May and I wasn't expecting such an overwhelming response,” Abrar told Kashmir Observer.

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Forget the much-touted South Kashmir seat, the real action lies beyond north of Srinagar, in a highly heterogeneous belt of Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency. This is where the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah is testing his political luck by locking horns with an alleged B-Teams of BJP in Kashmir.

Engineer Rashid's entry into the electoral contest has introduced a new dynamic to the ongoing competition between NC's Omar Abdullah and Sajjad Lone, as he has the potential to influence and divide votes across various assembly segments.

As the Srinagar Lok Sabha elections concluded on Monday, all eyes are on North Kashmir now. With the significant response Rashid and his party, the Awami Ittehad Party (AIP), has garnered, analysts believe he could bring about a major surprise. Engineer's participation is seen as giving an edge to Omar Abdullah.

Political observers maintain that incarcerated former legislator Engineer Rashid will be the X-factor in the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat, who will divide the votes in the region.

In the last parliamentary elections, Rashid garnered more than 1 lakh votes, losing to National Conference's Akbar Lone.

Rashid's son Abrar Rashid is actively campaigning in North Kashmir for his jailed father. On May 8, he led a massive road show from Baramulla to Uri as part of their campaign trail.

According to reports, he is reaching out to the people in Kupwara, Handwara, Lengate and other parts of the constituency.

“I am not a political leader, I have just come to you to remind you that my father has been behind bars for the last five years for speaking in favor of Kashmiris,” Abrar told the gathering in Gulshan Chowk, Bandipora.

Abrar, a Masters student, told Kashmir Observer that despite his exam on May 21, he will continue campaigning for his father.

He said that so far no party has offered them any support.

Observers say that Rashid may get“sympathy votes” as he will be contesting the election from the Tihar Jail, where he has been lodged since 2019 following his arrest by NIA in an alleged terror funding case.

“Today's vote is for innocent Engineer Rashid and the vote can take him to the Indian parliament and also get him released,” Abrar is often heard during the rallies.

Former legislator, Rashid has been a maverick leader, often landing in rows on account of his brand of politics that survived on controversial or extreme political positions.

Among total five Lok Sabha seats in Jammu and Kashmir, three lie in the valley. And BJP is at least eyeing one of them. With meek candidates and proxies fighting for Srinagar and Rajouri-Anantnag seat, the BJP is eyeing Baramulla seat with the help of their purported allies-the People's Conference(PC) Chief, Sajjad Lone and Apni Party(AP) Patron Altaf Bukhari.

Both Bukhari and Lone are sworn supporters of PM Modi's dispensation and previously they were presented and patronized as the alternative chief ministerial candidates of Kashmir. Bukhari and Lone are fighting together against Omar Abdullah's National Conference for the seat.

Despite Omar being vice president of the only pan-J&K cadre party, Lone's PC had influence over northern pockets due to his father's sway.

Before Engineer Rashid entered the electoral arena, the North Kashmir constituency was perceived as a battle between the National Conference (NC) and the People's Conference (PC). However, with his entry, Engineer has turned North into a three-way contest, causing concern in Sajad Lone's PC camp.

“The current situation on the ground is truly unprecedented. Even in Sajad Lone's stronghold, people are inclined to vote for Engineer Rashid,” said Abdul Rashid, a senior political analyst from North Kashmir's Bandipora district.

This shift seems to stem from sympathy for him due to his arrest and a desire to give him a chance for release. Sajad Lone's father's separatist legacy is also affecting his chances of winning this time.

Notably, PDP has fielded former Rajya Sabha member, Fayaz Mir from the seat, but he is not considered a strong contender.

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