Emerging from Tihar: A Growing Threat To The Legacy Politics Of Kashmir

The recent Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir have shaken up the region's traditional political landscape, with surprising results and the emergence of new forces challenging the established order

Sheikh Abdul Rashid

As Tuesday morning began, counting for the North Kashmir constituency of Baramulla, jailed independent candidate Engineer Rashid surged ahead, leaving former Chief Minister and National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah trailing behind.

Initially nonchalant, Omar Abdullah, seen exercising at the Royal Springs Golf Course in Srinagar, downplayed Rashid's early lead and asked reporters to wait for more rounds of counting. However, as Rashid's lead widened Omar Abdullah conceded defeat.

“I think it’s time to accept the inevitable. Congratulations to Engineer Rashid for his victory in North Kashmir,” Abdullah posted on X Tuesday afternoon, even as counting was still underway. Abdullah said that the voters have spoken and, in a democracy, that is all that matters. “I don’t believe his victory will hasten his release from prison nor will the people of North Kashmir get the representation they have a right to, but the voters have spoken and, in a democracy, that’s all that matters,” Abdullah added.

In the North Kashmir constituency of Baramulla, the initial contest was on the showdown between Abdullah and Peoples Conference (PC) leader Sajad Gani Lone. However, a twist occurred when the independent candidate and incarcerated leader Er Rasheed's party filed a nomination on his behalf and subsequently initiated an emotionally charged campaign.

Engineer Rasheed, a former two-time MLA from the Langate Assembly constituency in Kupwara, has spent the last five years behind bars facing charges of terror funding under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Sheikh secured an impressive 472,481 votes, triumphing over his closest competitor Omar Abdullah by a margin of 204,142 votes. Abdullah got a total of 268,339 votes, while Sajjad Lone received 173,239 votes.

Many perceive Engineer Rashid's victory, in the context of his prolonged incarceration, suggesting it is a win of politics of grievance that is becoming increasingly prominent.

Abrar Rashid, 23, who extensively campaigned for his father, chanting “jail ka badla vote se, Tihar ka badla vote se,” (Avenge imprisonment with votes, avenge Tihar with votes) hoped for the release of his father. He also talked about the dignity and safety of the youth.

Tough road ahead for Legacy Politics

The defeat of Abdullah in North Kashmir and People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti in South Kashmir also is a significant shift in the political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. While the BJP was along trying to hit at the legacies of the Abdullah and Mufti families attacking them regularly, calling them dynasts, and talking about “getting Kashmir rid of these two families” it was the unique dynamics within Kashmir that ultimately led to the defeat of two former Chief Ministers.

Mehbooba Mufti faced a formidable opponent in National Conference candidate Mian Altaf in South Kashmir’s Anantnag-Rajouri constituency. Despite her vigorous campaign, she lacked the robust party infrastructure that the National Conference enjoyed. Mian Altaf, a Gujjar spiritual leader, secured a large number of votes from the Gujjar community in Rajouri and Poonch and wide support from the National Conference, Congress, and CPIM voters in the Kashmir Valley's three districts. His strong candidacy was widely recognized, and he successfully capitalized on his broad support base.

Initially, Mehbooba hoped to run as a joint candidate for the INDIA alliance from the constituency. However, her party decided to contest all three constituencies in Kashmir after the National Conference refused to concede any seats to the PDP from the alliance's quota in the region.

In the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, Mian Altaf Ahmad emerged victorious with a huge mandate, securing 521,836 votes. Mehbooba Mufti, trailed far behind, with only 240,042 votes to her name, marking a substantial margin of defeat amounting to 281,794 votes. Following her, Apni Party’s Zafar Iqbal Khan Manhas, who had the support of the BJP, secured 142,195 votes.

In the aftermath of their defeat, Abdullah has to confront the emerging political situation shaped by Engineer Rashid's increasing influence, while Mehbooba Mufti has to recalibrate and devise new strategies for her political resurgence.

Sajad Lone of the Peoples Conference, who had support from the Apni Party, secured the third position in Baramulla. Lone has been considering his party as a potential challenger to the National Conference. However, his setback in his constituency, where he frequently taunted Omar Abdullah as a "tourist," will undoubtedly be a bitter pill to swallow. While Omar may have been labelled a tourist, Lone's defeat in his hometown will be a significant blow. The Peoples Conference might rejoice over the defeat of Omar Abdullah, but the party would not erase the fact that the PC has come to third position in North Kashmir.

Aga Ruhullah and Waheed Para: Decent Opponents in the Game of Wins and Losses

Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi, representing the National Conference, clinched the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat with an impressive 356,866 votes, maintaining a commanding margin of 188,416 votes over his opponent, Waheed-Ur-Rehman Para of the PDD, who secured 168,450 votes and settled for the second spot. However, both candidates upheld dignity in both victory and defeat, demonstrating the same level of respect they maintained throughout the lengthy campaign, refraining from engaging in personal attacks. Mehdi described his win against the verdict of August 5, 2019, the day Article 370 was abrogated, and J&K state was bifurcated into two Union Territories.

“A big thank you to the people of Srinagar, Pulwama, Gandarbal, Shopian and Budgam for this mandate and faith in me. I am humbled and I am aware of the responsibility that this mandate brings with it. You have spoken democratically and spoken against the decisions of Aug 5, 2019. From here on it is my responsibility to take your voice to the Parliament and to the people of the rest of India. Rest assured, I will represent your sentiments and struggle for the return of our Dignity and rights with complete sincerity,” Mehdi said.

PDP candidate Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra said that Kashmiris, after years of silence, have courageously expressed themselves through their votes for the first time, aiming to break the cycle of silence and reclaim their voice. He extended his congratulations to Ruhullah, Engineer Rashid, and Mian Altaf for their victories in the Srinagar, North Kashmir's Baramulla, and South Kashmir’s Anantnag-Rajouri seats, respectively.


Ruhullah Mehdi thanked Waheed for his participation in the process of “making our voices heard democratically.” "It was a decent competition and I thank you for that. I wish you all the best for your future political endeavours.”