'People May Reject Me, Hate Me, But Can't Ignore Me'’

Engineer Sheikh Abdul Rasheed, aka Er Rasheed, a firebrand politician and an independent legislator, is hogging headlines these days.

A little known political figure from frontier Langate constituency in North Kashmir not long time back, is now a star attraction on almost every other news channel debating Kashmir. He is a must watch politician, unlike his peers in the mainstream politics.

His admirers call him 'brutally honest' person who calls spade a spade. He is watched as he gives vent to the Kashmiri peoples frustrations on national media, where partisan anchors often mute his voice. His detractors call him a hypocrite who has taken oath of allegiance to India in the Assembly but terms same country as an occupier.

To understand the mind behind this maverick politician Kashmir Observer correspondent Nidhi Suresh met Engineer Rasheed for a conversation.

How does it feel to be on a national television where you’re constantly shut down? 

Humiliated. It makes me feel like I'm a citizen of a colonial power called India, where even journalists have lost their ethics and morality. The main problem is that information is not allowed to flow from this part of the earth to India. My aim is to put some iota of truth on record and hope that somebody will listen to it.

How do you think national media is narrativizing Kashmir? 

If I answer this question, it will only help India. I think, every Kashmiri should be thankful to the so called National Media because it gives us a reason to hate India. It strengthens our commitment and exposes the dirty ultra-nationalistic ideologies of India. Such media should in fact be a great cause of concern for the real patriots of India because national media is doing what ISI can't do to India.

You have taken an oath of allegiance to India, yet you speak against it. In that regard, is it not hypocritical that you constantly accuse India to be an occupying force? 

This is a very simple question. Unfortunately, the narrative behind this question has been created by the Hurriyat who boycotted elections and named everybody else standing for election as traitor. Also, I have not taken oath under Indian constitution; I have taken oath under constitution of Jammu and Kashmir. UN resolutions categorically have identified that by no means, any law passed, can supersede UN resolutions. So, is GoI a bigger institution than UN? I wonder, Hindustani’s dhoka kisko derehe hai (who are Hindustani's actually cheating?).

Also, where in the constitution does it say that I must lie? The oath is all about speaking the truth. If the constitution allows me to fight for our fundamental rights, then the UN charter clearly states that self-determination is my right.

India passed a resolution which calls J&K an integral part of India. The real question is, has the Indian State been able to honestly implement this resolution? If so, then why has it not stopped the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in Gilgit, which is a part of disputed territory of your integral part? Clearly, Indians are the biggest hypocrites, befooling their own people and eroding their own credibility.

So you call Indian government a hypocrite? 

If Pakistan says something, India rushes into a surgical strike. I am not advocating Pakistan's ideologies but when Chinese do something worst, India doesnt 'dare open its mouth. Why are you not having a surgical strike on China? That says enough, doesn't it?

So where do Kashmiris stand in all this? 

British were such nice people but they gave freedom to two fools  India and Pakistan. Two fools, who are not able to hold their countries together. We, Kashmiris were free long before India. But India’s struggle for freedom, took away ours. So now we are left with a very harsh, radical, unrealistic, illogical enemy called India.

How seriously are you taken by the mainstream politicians? 

It is quite interesting; when they talk in assembly I am labelled as an IB agent. They also know that without Pakistani sentiment, they cannot survive here. So these politicians try to plant an impression that I have been planted here. And when people like Mehbooba Mufti visit New Delhi, they say 'Oh this bloody Engineer Rasheed is a Pakistani. He will destroy all of us'. I have decided that I am doing all of this for myself, for my conscience.

Many people think you are an agent of the Indian army because you speak so harshly, yet you remain untouched. 

Why are you putting my life at risk by asking this? You know that we're living in a conflict zone.

Am I not the man who is fighting 22 cases against the army in the State Human Rights Commission? Army has used me as forced labour for 15 long years. One night when an encounter took place, they dragged my wife by her hair from my house for about 50 feet. My father has been tortured, and I have lost 6 people from my family.

If you speak for your people, your enemies will also respect you.

Yet not many people follow you?

I don't care. I am speaking for myself. I am not in a politician by conviction. I casted my first vote for myself. I never dreamt of winning elections but when it happened I decided to use it for the best. I am not India's enemy or Pakistan’s puppet. Some people link me to Hurriyat but that is not the case. I respect them even though we have many differences that I can't talk about, as it will harm our movement. Right now, I am only giving back to the dirty system which forced me to sell my land in 2006. I am still not sure if I should have made a party or not because it needs money, it needs muscle power and it needs you to be a liar. But I have not given up hope. I'm going to continue trying. People may reject me, they may hate me but you can't ignore me. I will call a spade a spade.

What solution do you have in mind for Kashmir problem? 

There are only five ways to solve the issue of J&K:

1) Good sense should prevail with the Government of India and they should move forward and declare that they don’t care about Kashmir.

2) Pakistan should be strong enough to force India but that is not a possibility.

3) Militancy should be strong enough to drive out the seven lakh Indian soldiers.

4) International community should recognise and register the sufferings of Kashmiris and compel India and Pakistan to solve the issue

5) Hurriyat or main stream politicians should have the guts, the credibility and the vision to carry out a movement in a direction that India and Pakistan would feel compelled to sit and resolve it.

Unfortunately, all these five options have been exhausted. I do hope that Hurriyat can convince MLA's within assemblies because the world only listens to them. Or if Hurriyat contests elections they will surely win and then they can make their stand clearer.

While the Hurriyat asks for negotiated settlement, JKLF demands independence, what is Engineer Rasheed's roadmap for Kashmir? 

Mine is a one point agenda: Plebiscite

India claims to be a so called largest democracy and UN promised us a plebiscite. Now, there is no other way out.

But realistically do you think the Plebiscite will ever happen?

When India started asking for freedom from British did anybody ever think it will actually ever happen?

What stops you from joining Hurriyat? 

I am doing what I can do in my own way. Both, Mirwaiz and Geelani have declared that we are all sailing in the same boat. We all have the same ideology but we work differently.

Do you want to be Chief Minister? 

Who would not want to be a Chief Minister? But I know my worth; I will not get enough support. Kashmir has become a place of conspiracies. People tell me that today I speak against India just like what Mehbooba Mufti or Sheikh Abdullah used to when they were out of power. This is an unfair judgement. I always tell such people, just because they betrayed you, doesn't mean that I am not speaking the truth.”

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