Firebrand and controversial legislator Abdul Rashid Sheikh's Awami Ittehad Party (AIP), which fielded candidates from three parliamentary constituencies of Kashmir on Saturday, may act as a party pooper for both the ruling National Conference (NC) and Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
After several rounds of meetings spread over months on whether to contest the parliamentary polls or not, Langate MLA Sheikh (44), widely known as Engineer Rashid, has zeroed in on three faces, including two newcomers.
Besides pitting himself against NC's stalwart Sharif-ud-Sharif and PDP's star candidate Muzaffar Hussein Beig from Baramulla constituency, Rashid has put his bet on a journalist and a lawyer in central and south Kashmir, respectively.
"Rashid Rahil, a journalist by profession, will contest from the Srinagar constituency, while advocate Mujeeb-ul-Rehman stands fielded from south Kashmir's Anantnag constituency," said Rashid in Srinagar.
Rahil is pitted against NC's old warhorse Farooq Abdullah and PDP's Srinagar face Tariq Hamid Karra.
Rashid, who contested the assembly polls for the first time in 2008 and won from north Kashmir's Langate constituency by 210 votes, will be testing the waters of the parliamentary polls for the first time.
"Our decision was motivated by the fact that both NC and PDP have failed the people of Kashmir and acted as 'B' Team of the Congress.
"Our candidates will act as a bridge between the people of the valley and the rest of India. We will show India the ground realities of Kashmir," said Rashid, who hit the headlines for moving resolutions over clemency to Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and on involving the militant conglomerate, United Jehad Council, in the dialogue process. "For forcing India and Pakistan to have a just resolution of Kashmir, people should come out and vote for AIP so that traditionally selfish and political parties with vested interests who have sucked blood of Kashmiris are thrown out," he said.
Rashid is only legislator who straddles on both separatist and mainstream language to push for his brand of politics.
His quirky politics, which includes unleashing of dogs outside the civil secretariat on bureaucrats and beating up of drums outside the house of contractors, did earn him faith among angry-with-the-system youth.
His work on easing security restrictions in his frontier constituency, neighbouring Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, has helped him create a wave in his favour.
In 2008, he polled 7,964 votes, while PDP's candidate got 7,754. Two-time MLA from Langate Sharif-ud-Din Shariq managed number three spot with 5,266 votes.
With more than 59,000 votes in his constituency and spreading his presence in areas of north Kashmir's Sopore and Handwara constituencies, Rashid poses equal threat to the NC and PDP.
In Srinagar parliamentary constituency, his party's entry into the fray may further shrink the PDP's vote kitty. With the AIP having sizeable number of supporters in central Kashmir's Budgam district, where the PDP is working hard to nurture its support base with Srinagar always favouring Abdullahs.
In south Kashmir, the AIP will be an irritant for PDP's Mehbooba Mufti rather than Beg. With anti-incumbency wave riding against Mufti, the AIP may provide space, though not of great significance, to disenchanted voters of the PDP. However, his presence equally poses threat to NC's Beg, whose popularity is dented by the overall performance of the NC in the last six years. AIP's double-edged sword can go any side to cut the votes.