Having played a key role in upholding the secular fabric of the region, especially the Poonch-Rajouri belt, during the 20 years of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, Yash Pal Sharma, 67, is contesting his maiden Lok Sabha election as a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate from the Jammu-Poonch segment.
Observers say that when even the leaders of other mainstream parties kept away, Sharma was always accessible to the public irrespective of caste and creed. He is being seen as the dark horse in a triangular contest involving the NC-Congress and the BJP candidate.
Born in Poonch, around 280km from Jammu, eldest of four siblings, Sharma became active in student politics while studying law. He formed a movement in the college with the ideology of equality. He had first brush with street politics in 1978 in Poonch. There was resentment over selection in government jobs. He spearheaded a movement against the then government headed by chief minister Sheikh Abdullah.
It turned in a massive agitation comprising students and other political parties, engulfing the entire Jammu region. Six lives were lost, around 200 people were injured and thousands were detained, but the police were not allowed to enter Poonch for more than four months.
As for electoral politics, the son of a schoolteacher, Sharma he has lost by narrow margins, though he has contested as Congress, Janata Dal and independent candidate. He has been in the Upper House of the state assembly in the past.
A vegetarian who loves home-cooked food, he carries his dal-roti during campaign. “Even Mufti sahib (PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed) enjoys food from my lunchbox,” he says.
An avid sportsperson who excelled in shot put, football and kabaddi, he says, “I still miss those days when I do not even find time to jog.”
Married in 1980, he has four children.
His goal? “If I get elected, no other MP will win the election from this seat after that without reaching out to each and every area of the constituency.