In Palhalan area of Pattan, a reporter casually asked a youth, who was outside a polling station in the area, whether he voted. The youth surprised him by saying, “Yes, I voted.” Palhalan area usually boycotts elections. The youth said he voted for Engineer Rasheed. Then he went on to explain why he voted for Engineer Rasheed. “I have seen him always being beaten up. I thought to let my vote be a tribute to the thrashing he gets,” he said, and laughed.
It is true that Rasheed gets regularly thrashed. He was beaten up by BJP MLAs inside J&K House. He was dragged by the police. And marshals in Jammu and Kashmir Assembly are used to pulling Rasheed out, savagely. His grey trademark kameez was torn off several times.
Rasheed calls Kashmir a disputed territory. He seeks its solution under the UN resolution. He calls for talks with militants. He also fights elections under the Indian Constitution for the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and Parliament. He sees no contradiction in all this.
This time Rasheed was contesting from north Kashmir’s parliamentary constituency spread over three districts, Baramulla, Bandipora, Kupwara and a police district Sopore. It was expected that he would come a distant fourth, far behind all the parties. He campaigned in his own car. He has no security cover.
He got 1,02,168 votes while the People's Conference received 1,03,193 and the National Conference’s winning candidate secured 1,33,426 votes. Rasheed’s vote tally was near that of the People's Conference and he was not too far from the National Conference either.
Before the results, People's Conference would position itself as a major regional party of the State as it was expecting to win from the north Kashmir’s parliamentary constituency with ease. And the NC would describe Rasheed as a non-entity. But now things have changed.
Rasheed’s performance in the polls could be worrying for the National Conference. Rasheed has the support of IAS officer-turned-politician Shah Faesal too. Even though the voting pattern in the parliamentary polls shows National Conference winning 30 of the 46 Assembly segments of the Valley in the 87-member Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, the party would be seriously looking at the rise of Rasheed and his allies. NC vice-president Omar Abdullah is conscious of it as he repeatedly says new parties are coming up only in Kashmir for dividing the votes of Kashmiris.
People's Conference chairman Sajad Lone would always talk about “Uncles and Aunties” in New Delhi who would come to the support of what he says, dynastic parties, the NC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Now with only 2,000 votes ahead of Rasheed, Lone also is in dire need of the support of those very “Uncles and Aunties.”
The PDP also needs the support of "Uncles and Aunties" if there are any, as it has been decimated in the polls with PDP president Mehbooba Mufti losing from her bastion South Kashmir.
Rasheed became an independent legislator from Langate constituency of Kupwara in 2008. That year he cast vote for the first time and he voted for himself. He entered the Assembly as a protester and since then, he is on protest.
Before contesting the polls in 2008, Rasheed says his position was not enviable. He was taken as a human shield by the Army and beaten up by the Special Operations Group of police for agitating over human rights abuses.
This unconventional politician has a diploma in Engineering and is a science graduate. Prior to 2008, he was working as Assistant Executive Engineer in the Jammu and Kashmir Projects Construction Corporation Ltd (JKPCC), a J&K Government undertaking.
After he became legislator he didn’t change. Some years ago he caught stray dogs from North Kashmir, brought them to Srinagar, tried to release them in the civil Secretariat to sensitize the government about growing population of stray dogs which bite nearly 15,000 people every year. Before being legislator, he would join the villagers to chase a leopard that had killed a three-year-old child in his constituency, which is close to the jungle.
In 2011, he brought a resolution in the State Assembly seeking clemency for Afzal Guru (Parliament attack convict who was hanged in 2013).
He has only controversies to his credit. A few years ago, he became the first MLA to attend the funeral prayers of militants killed in an encounter with the Army and Police in Handwara area of Kupwara district.
In 2015, minutes before the J&K House was to begin proceedings, a group of BJP MLAs led by Ravinder Raina pounced on Rasheed. They dragged him towards the Opposition benches and beat him up. Rasheed was rescued by NC members. The BJP members had accused Rasheed of hosting a beef party in the MLA hostel.
That time NC leader Omar Abdullah, who was witness to Rasheed’s thrashing, gave an emotional speech.
“What we saw today, it is difficult for us to believe and accept. It was an attempt to kill a member and that too inside the House,” Omar Abdullah said. “You (BJP members) attacked him (Rasheed) and it seemed from your eyes you were to murder him. If we hadn’t rescued him, you would have killed him. It was done in the same way as was done in Dadri,” Omar had said.
Looking at the way Omar got emotional seeing Rasheed getting thrashed and, that youngster in Palhalan also got a bit sentimental and voted for him -- getting regular beating also pays!