The curious case of Engineer Rashid’s silence

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Faisal Khan (4)In October 2015, Engineer Rashid held a beef party in Srinagar at a time when several states in the country were banning the sale and consumption of beef. It generated nationwide furore. Last winter, he along with supporters slept outside Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s residence to protest against the state government’s decision to issue domicile certificates to West Pakistan Refugees. In the past, he has moved resolutions in Jammu & Kashmir Assembly against hanging of Afzal Guru. He has also submitted a resolution to protect Article 35A of the Indian constitution which forbids outsiders from buying property in the state or becoming its citizens. In August, he publicly announced that he wanted to quit his Assembly seat and join the separatist Hurriyat Conference. Legislator Rashid, arguably J&K’s most controversial politician, is in the news again. But this time not for his loud, contentious politics which forces local and national media to take note of him and make him a subject of prime time discussion. It is for his silence which has become deafening since his arrest by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) earlier this year.

In October, Engineer appeared before the NIA for questioning in connection with a case related to funding of militancy in Kashmir after the agency summoned him. His name had reportedly cropped up during the interrogation of businessman Zahoor Watali, who was arrested by the NIA for allegedly supplying money to militant groups and separatists.

Rashid flew to New Delhi and walked into NIA headquarters with a file and documents, saying he had nothing to hide. But after his return to the Valley, Rashid, who would always raise political din about every issue, big or small, suddenly became quiet. As time went by without Rashid hitting the streets on any issue, people and media started questioning his silence.

“He’s easily Kashmir’s most outspoken mainstream politician, but Engineer Rashid has been uncharacteristically subdued since he was scooped up and questioned by the NIA earlier this year,” a report in a local daily read.  “Is this merely coincidence or is there more to his relative silence?”

Another daily went one step further saying Rashid’s organization Awami Itihad Party had “wound up its party activities from central and southern Kashmir” in the aftermath of the NIA raids. Quoting sources from his party, the report said its workers in South Kashmir had been told officially that they were “at liberty to leave the party as AIP has decided to wind up its activities in central and south Kashmir”. According to Rashid himself this is being done to focus more on North Kashmir, the party’s core base.

But this still doesn’t explain Rashid’s subdued politics following his questioning by NIA. Has the agency put him on notice? There are no answers. When asked, Rashid did admit that he had gone quiet after NIA investigation but “for none of the speculated reasons”.

“I am not on the streets because I was disappointed and shocked by the response of the mainstream parties and the Hurriyat to my arrest,” Rashid said. “I am still to come out of the shock, but I am not ignorant of my duties towards people”.

Rashid said that the NIA had asked whether he had met the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he went for umrah and that he had denied it. “I was asked about receiving donations from a businessman, which I again denied but said that getting donations was not a crime. They asked about my political position, my protests, my stand on the issue of Kashmiri Pandits,” Rashid said.

He also said he was writing a book about everything that happened with the NIA. “I will soon be able to tell the truth. I will tear masks off the faces of politicians here,” he said.

Will he return to the streets? He says he will. “I’ll be back soon. I am not going anywhere. But protests can’t be held for the sake of them. They should be situational. They should be issue-based. I am not ignorant of my duties towards the people”.

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