Reporter’s Diary: A Pressure Cooker Moment In Kashmir Politics

The Pressure Cooker symbol has indeed exerted significant pressure on both Lone and Omar, prompting them to intensify their campaigns

Outlook photo
Abrar Rashid Photo: Outlook photo

Abrar Rashid, the 23-year-old son of former legislator Engineer Rashid, who has been in Tihar jail for five years, has unexpectedly burst onto the political scene in Kashmir, creating a significant impact. In the recently concluded parliamentary elections, Abrar Rashid, along with his younger brother Asrar Rashid, disrupted the anticipated showdown in North Kashmir’s Baramulla seat. What was initially perceived to be a contest between former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah and Peoples Conference President Sajad Lone was shaken by his emergence.

The contest in North Kashmir was closely watched throughout the Valley. The Peoples Conference was the first to announce its candidate, naming Sajad Lone on February 26 as their Parliamentary candidate for North Kashmir. This was the beginning of Lone's high-voltage campaign, focused on "restoring the lost dignity of the people of Jammu and Kashmir". From Drugmulla to Lolab and Langate, Lone visited almost every part of the constituency.

The Peoples Conference anticipated that the National Conference (NC) would field party’s leader Ramzan Choudhary from the constituency. Confident in Lone's skills, they believed he would have smooth sailing in the election.

But when on April 12, the National Conference announced Omar Abdullah's candidacy for North Kashmir, the rhetoric intensified. Lone repeatedly referred to Omar Abdullah as a tourist. And Abdullah framed the election as a contest between the National Conference and everyone else.

On May 1, Lone filed his nomination papers for the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat, pledging to fight for "equal rights and bringing J&K at par with other states of India." He also managed to secure a pre-poll alliance with the J&K Apni Party. The battle lines were drawn, setting the stage for a fierce electoral contest.

Throughout his campaign, Lone frequently targeted Omar Abdullah. In response, Abdullah accused the Peoples Conference and the Apni Party of being BJP's B-teams. While the BJP didn't contest any seats in Kashmir, it remained a significant part of the discourse.

“One of the most heavily guarded VIP’s in India happens to be the ex-chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mr Omar Abdullah. And Mr Abdullah feeling fully secure behind the impregnable security grid has absolutely no qualms in scripting a discourse which has greatest probability to end in violence and consume the lives of unguarded civilians.” 

Lone accused the National Conference of rigging the 1987 elections. He said Omar Abdullah was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Foreign Minister and during that time say the situation in Kashmir is peaceful. “The killings that took place in his time he should speak about that, “They (National Conference) have ruled for forty years. Let them answer for those forty years.”  He said there would be an FIR about the election rigging of 1987. 

On May 2, after filing nominations, Omar Abdullah repeated that the election is not about development: "The current elections are important as it is the first big election in J&K after 05 August 2019 when Article 370 was abrogated. We are seeking votes against those decisions. NC’s stand has always been clear on the issue of abrogation of Article 370."

"Voters have to decide on 20 May whether they want to send their candidate to Delhi or get Delhi’s proxy to Baramulla. My fight is not against an individual or a party but against the government in Delhi and RSS of Nagpur,” Abdullah said.

"This is a reality. In the previous elections, I fought against boycotts, I fought against guns and Pakistani (Army) generals and I fought against the circumstances of that time. But this time, Delhi has brought together all political parties here to defeat the NC," he said. 

Omar in his speech in border Tehsil of Gurez, said, "J&K is currently going through a critical period. While people are being evicted from their lands, our religion is being attacked daily. In some places, it is about uniform civil code, in some places, a worshiper is being kicked while offering prayers.”

“We are being taunted repeatedly and our emotions are being played with and all this is being done by BJP for its nefarious political interests. Those who are fighting elections on the symbols of apple, bat-ball and bucket have to answer why they are not raising their voice against the BJP. Why are they avoiding speaking against the BJP?" Omar added.

Both Omar Abdullah and Sajad Lone were surprised by an unexpected entry of Abrar Rashid. On April 29, Abdul Rashid Sheikh, head of the Awami-e-Ittihad Party (AIP), filed nomination papers for the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat through a representative. Despite being a low-key event, it garnered little attention initially as the focus remained on the battle between Omar and Lone in north Kashmir. Many underestimated Rashid's impact due to his incarceration. However, Kashmir soon proved them wrong. 

On May 8, Abrar Rashid's speech in Boniyar, Uri, captured the public's attention and quickly went viral. During his address, Abrar focused on his father, Engineer Rashid. “My father has been imprisoned in Tihar Jail for the past five years. This situation has compelled me to step forward to secure his release. Today, it should be my father standing here, not me. It is you, the people, who can ensure my father's freedom,” he declared. Abrar emphasized, “I have no interest in politics, but those who sent my father to Tihar Jail have forced my hand.”


Abrar called on the people, “I have no money. No vehicle. No money for even flags. Each one of you must become Engineer Rashid. This is a fight between the oppressed and the oppressors, between the common man and the VIP culture.” He dismissed developmental politics, saying he was not seeking votes for IAY or NERGA schemes. “Today, we must vote to get my father out of jail,” he said, asking people to vote for his party’s symbol, the Pressure Cooker.

The Pressure Cooker symbol indeed exerted significant pressure on both Lone and Omar, prompting them to intensify their campaigns. With Abrar’s slogan "Tihar Ka Badla Vote Say," Abrar Rashid set a new trend.


Throughout the final days of campaigning in the North, Abrar was accompanied by lengthy processions of youth riding bikes, load-carriers, and vans. Villagers poured into the streets to greet him, marking a sentimental shift among the people. Women offered water and cooked rice to Abrar Rashid's supporters. No one had anticipated such a spontaneous outpouring of support and love for Rashid.

In the lead-up to the abrogation of Article 370, Engineer Rashid, a two-time MLA from the AIP had been arrested and charged by the National Investigation Agency under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The NIA accused Rashid of receiving money from Pakistan to fund separatist activities in Jammu and Kashmir, charges Rashid denied.


Rashid’s political career had been marked by controversies. He had been beaten by BJP leaders inside the legislative assembly after allegedly holding a beef party. However, his campaign against the Indian Army for allegedly using local youth in his area for “bonded labour” had earned him support among a certain section of voters in Kashmir. He had also filed a case with the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). Rashid was unassuming, often moving without security and people would remember him as such.

In the past, Rashid had been elected to the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly from the Langate constituency in Kupwara district in 2008, securing re-election in 2014. He had then contested the Lok Sabha polls from the Baramulla constituency in 2019 but suffered a defeat to NC’s Mohammad Akbar Lone by a margin of nearly 30,000 votes.


In July 2012, as an MLA, he rounded up 60 stray dogs to release them before the civil secretariat in Srinagar. However, his efforts were thwarted by the state police, who had seized the vehicles transporting the dogs. Rashid was briefly placed under preventive detention for 45 minutes at a local police station.

The problem of stray dogs had become a significant concern in the erstwhile state, with officials estimating the number of dogs in Srinagar alone to be as high as 91,000, resulting in a dog-to-human ratio of 1:13. This issue had led to widespread discourse, especially considering the large number of dog bites, which had exceeded 25,000 from 2009 to 2012.


On the last day of his campaign, Abrar told people in Baramulla that his political journey had ended. “On May 20, on voting day, you must decide the fate of my father,” he said, as young supporters cheered all around.

In North Kashmir, opinions differ. In the NC camp, there's a prevailing belief among many that the main contest is between Omar Abdullah and Engineer Rashid, with Omar expected to secure a significant victory. Conversely, many Peoples Conference supporters see the competition as primarily between Sajad Lone and Engineer Rashid, with Lone anticipated to win by a good margin. Intriguingly, both groups regard Rashid as the second-place candidate.


The outcome of the Baramulla polls on June 4 would be a keenly watched moment. If Rashid manages to rise to the top spot, it will mark a watershed moment in Kashmiri politics. The epicentre of this political earthquake would be Mawar, Rashid's native village.