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J&K: Could 'Engineer' Rashid's Win in the Lok Sabha Pave the Way for MUF 2.0?

Kashmir has been largely quiet since 2018 but letting him contest from jail has revived the potential for agitation.

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Could the space that the state apparatus gave to 'Engineer' Abdul Rashid to contest and win the Baramulla seat in the Lok Sabha set off a chain reaction that spawns MUF 2.0?

The MUF (the Muslim United Front) was the broadly Islamist grouping that was formed in July 1986 and dramatically contested the March 1987 assembly elections in the then state of Jammu and Kashmir. 

Resentment caused by the rigging of those elections was one of the factors that spurred the uprising which began in 1988 and lasted till 2002-03. As my book, The Generation of Rage in Kashmir shows, it was revived when the state apparatus alienated youth, allowed militancy to grow, and gave space to anti-India propaganda from 2006 to 2016.

Kashmir has been largely quiet since 2018 but allowing 'Engineer' to contest from Tihar Jail, where he apparently signed his nomination forms, has revived the cycle of alienation and the potential for agitation and anti-India mobilisation.
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Support Base

Rashid’s victory is not the only straw in the wind. The Jamaat-e-Islami (J-e-I) announced towards the end of the recent election process that it would directly contest assembly elections. That was after a visit to Kashmir by Home Minister Amit Shah, who is said to have met some Jamaat men.

Jamaat and Abdul Ghani Lone’s People’s Conference were by far MUF’s most electorally potent constituents; each had the capacity to win a large number of seats. Jamaat had participated in electoral politics since the panchayat elections of 1969 until it was banned in 1990. It has been banned again, but that ban could be lifted.

'Engineer' was a part of Lone’s party in the past. Having now trounced Lone’s son and successor, Sajad, he has positioned himself as Lone’s political inheritor. Indeed, he polled substantial votes from all the areas in Kupwara, Baramulla, and Bandipora districts from where Ghani Lone’s candidates used to — plus the majority of votes from Beerwah in Budgam district.

He even got a lot of votes from followers of prominent politicians in Tangmarg and Bandipora, who are popular in their area and have been close to influential sections of the state apparatus.

Huge Expansion Possible

The Jamaat’s emergence and Rashid’s victory could together set the stage for a wider coalition of political groups opposed to the National Conference —and, at least on paper, to the Indian union. It is even possible that these might include Shabir Shah and some former militants, including some who are in jail. Who knows, even Yasin Malik of the JKLF, which launched the militancy in 1988-89, might contest from jail. 

After all, it has now been proved that Kashmiris responded to a campaign plea that voting for a jailed candidate would get him released. That’s what Rashid’s sons went around saying during the recent campaign, and what relatives of the then-jailed youth leader Waheed Para had said during district development board elections a few years ago.

Mirwaiz Umar could potentially be the cherry on the pie of this new coalition (possibly as its nominal chairman). His father, the then Mirwaiz Farooq, notably refused to join MUF in 1987. Instead, he made a pact with the NC — which was one of the reasons why Hizb gunmen killed him in May 1990.

The PDP could also possibly throw its lot in if such a grouping were to take shape. Its losses in the Lok Sabha elections could be a strong impetus. For, although it may still draw a lot of scattered votes, it can count on no more than maybe three or four outright wins without Jamaat’s backing—including Abdul Rehman Veeri from Bijbehara and Para from Rajpora. As long as Jamaat stayed out of directly participating in the electoral fray, the PDP got the Jamaat cadre’s votes. If Jamaat is directly in the fray, PDP will lose out.

In case two prominent politicians seen to be close to the BJP are drawn to such a grouping, they could bring it victory in about five constituencies each. If a senior leader of the Congress whose uncle once led a pro-Pakistan party joins, he too would win his own seat. 

If the government lets 'Engineer' Rashid out of jail, he could do effective spadework to bring together such a coalition, perhaps in the role of convenor. 

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BJP's Objectives

The initial objective of BJP strategists was to get a stamp of approval for the constitutional changes from the J&K assembly, after winning and preferably installing a Hindu chief minister. 

A while after the motivated delimitation was completed, the fact that they could not win a majority sank home. In fact, they were losing ground. So much so that even the two Hindu-dominated constituencies in the Jammu region gave the Congress 40 and 42 per cent respectively of their votes in these elections.

Could it be that some hare-brained tacticians have decided that facilitating an Islamist formation is the best way to prevent secular parties (NC and Congress) from dominating the assembly — elections for which the government has committed before the Supreme Court to hold by September this year?

They might figure that Hindus would flock to the BJP upon seeing an Islamist grouping in the fray. In that way, they might hope to emerge with more seats than both the putative Islamist grouping and the secular parties, and then get some of the latter to back them in a power-sharing arrangement. 

After all, even the MUF’s founders knew that they were going to win no more than 10 to 20 seats in `87, nowhere near a majority—although the rigging allowed unimpeded propaganda that they were going to sweep those elections. 

Toying with the formation of another similar front would nevertheless be playing with fire. North Kashmir’s response to Rashid’s campaign shows how easily a wave of support for Islamist or separatist politics could be drummed up. That could shatter the calm Kashmir has experienced over the past few years, which citizens there have welcomed. 

(The writer is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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