A Year After Arrest, Shah Faesal Is A ‘Changed Man’; Quits Politics To Start Afresh

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by Tasavur Mushtaq

SRINAGAR After a year of solitude, post his arrest in August 2019, bureaucrat turned politician, Shah Faesal has broken his silence, finally. Talking to Delhi based media, Faesal; a medico by degree and IAS topper of his batch has confirmed his decision of leaving the politics with which he had a short stint of fewer than two years.

The Decision

Sunday, August 9, Faesal raised speculation of leaving the politics when he removed from his Twitter bio his designation as the president of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement (JKPM), a party he had founded after leaving the civil services in March 2019.

Dr Shah Feasal and his other colleagues at the formal launch of their new political party, Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Movement in Srinagar on March 17, 2019. KL Image: Shuaib Wani

Initially, his party leaders insisted that “change in his bio shouldn’t be seen as him quitting the politics,” but later it was communicated that his second in command, Feroz Peerzada has replaced him as party president. Inaccessible locally, Faesal confirmed his decision of leaving the politics and revealed the reason to quit to Delhi based media.

As reported by Indian Express, Faesal has said that Kashmir faced a new political reality, and he did not want to show “quixotic dreams” to people when he had no power to change it.

To “undo” a perception of being anti-national, he said “In the last one year due to some of my problematic utterances, a perception was built that I am an anti-national… due to some of my statements, I let down a lot of people who had immense goodwill for me. I want to undo that.”

In his short stint as an “aspirational” politician, Faesal who wore many hats in his career has admitted that he realised that in politics it was hard, to tell the truth to the public. “I did not want to lead Kashmiris down the garden path and raise unrealistic expectations,” he is quoted to have said.

For his future course of action, he has said he had a life ahead of him and wanted to move and “do something productive”.

Reiterating that he has many “dreams” for J&K, he said he wanted to start afresh. “I don’t know what’s stored in the future and where will I go (sic). My fundamental interest is in education, health, poverty alleviation, employment generation and I wish to contribute in those sectors. This is a new world and I have many dreams for Jammu and Kashmir. I wish to start my life from a clean slate and do something productive.”

Curious Case Of Shah Faesal

Terming his period of detention as “immense learning”, Faesal said he realised that “he belongs to somewhere else.” “I realised that at the end of the day you are all alone. It’s your family that suffers the most while ironically those for whom you seem to be standing up are drawing a sadistic pleasure out of your misery. Detention gave me the clarity of mind that I belong somewhere else. That I can’t destroy my life for those who won’t even cry for me,” he said.

He denied having any idea about the future of unionist politics in Kashmir. “I have absolutely no idea.”

While talking to Outlook, Faesal has said the decision to abrogate Article 370 eliminated the grey zone. “The 1949 National consensus was that Article 370 should stay. The 2019 National consensus is that it should go. In such an environment you are either with India or against India.”

Will he ever return to politics? “I have quit politics because I don’t want to give false hope. Rather than telling people two decades later ‘look, I can’t do it’, I am doing it now. I don’t think I can ever come back to this field,” Faesal told the magazine. “In Kashmir, only a dead leader is a good leader. That is not how societies progress,” he added.

The Reaction

Almost everybody reacted to the decision of Faesal of leaving politics. From politicians to the public in general, an opinion was shared about his exit. Many politicians who shared a period of detention with Faesal had their own stories and blessings to share.

Ilija Mufti, using twitter handle of her mother Mehbooba Mufti in series of tweets talked about Faesal and his decision. In one of her tweets, she wrote, “Kashmir is abuzz about Shah Faesal resigning as President JKPM, a party he founded in Feb 2019. What made a man deeply passionate about bringing effective change to people of J&K through politics change his mind so abruptly?”

Wishing him good luck, Peoples Conference president Sajad Lone tweeted, “Wishing @shahfaesal all the best in life any endeavour he undertakes.”

The bureaucrat, Kannan Gopinathan, who had quit the elite service post-August 2019 to protest what he claimed was the denial of fundamental rights to lakhs of people in J&K has also wished Faesal on his decision. “Wishing the very best Shah Faesal sir on whatever he decides to do next.”

NC’s Salman Sagar reacted, “since Shah Faesal resigned from politics he must definitely have something good back in his mind. I got to spend time with him during my 6-month detention. He is a man full of wisdom and intelligence. I wish him all the very best with whatever new idea he has to serve his people.”

‘Poster’ Boy

A trained doctor from the remote belt of Kupwara in Kashmir, Faesal at the age of 27 emerged as a ‘poster’ boy after qualifying IAS securing the top slot. Being first from Kashmir to date, this was described as an extraordinary accomplishment. A young man from village Sogam, who lost his father, Ghulam Hassan Shah, a school teacher to bullets, marked his success in his maiden attempt.

Before sitting for IAS, he had done his MBBS from SKIMS medical college, Bemina. He did his matriculation from Government Higher Secondary School, Sogam, Kupwara, before joining the Biscoe School, from where he qualified his 12th class.

With his success in India’s prestigious examination, Faesal had become very popular among youth at the national level. He was seen as a new role model and an icon for Kashmiri youth, as well.

The Resignation 

In January 2019, Faesal quit the civil services. Announcing his decision on social media, he said he was quitting to protest against “unabated killings” in Kashmir and the “marginalization of Indian Muslims”.

“To protest against the unabated killings in Kashmir and lack of any sincere reach-out from the Union government; the marginalization and invisiblisation of around 200 million Indian Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces reducing them to second-class citizens; insidious attacks on the special identity of the J&K state and growing culture of intolerance and hate in the mainland India in the name of hyper-nationalism, I have decided to resign from IAS,” he said.

Without naming it, Faesal launched a scathing attack on the BJP-led government at the Centre, saying the “subversion of public institutions like the RBI, the CBI, and the NIA has the potential to decimate the constitutional edifice of this country and it needs to be stopped.”

Welcoming him to the fold, National Conference (NC) vice president Omar Abdullah wrote, “The bureaucracy’s loss is politics’ gain. Welcome to the fold Shah Faesal.”

Before putting in his papers, Faesal had returned from the US after completing his Fulbright fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Political Inning

Done with the babubgiri, Feasal after his resignation started political activities. He went out and asked people if they have any ideas for him before he takes a final decision about his future. “As of now, I have quit the service. What I am going to do hereafter also depends on what people of Kashmiri want me to do,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Finally after what he said “discussion and deliberation”, Faesal launched his own party in the ‘Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement’ at a function in the Rajbagh area of Srinagar. The political rally saw participation from hundreds of people.

During the launch ceremony, Feesal said he admires Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for their political struggle.

“Our party will work for the peaceful resolution of Kashmir as per the wishes of the people living here. We will fight with forces intent to divide Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of religion. We will represent Kashmir’s youth. We will work for the health sector will finish corruption from the state,” he said.

Without giving anybody, Faesal said, “Those who were ready to accommodate me in their political parties, by denying them and their offers, they are now saying, I am an agent of RSS and BJP.”

Several youngsters and aspiring politicians joined Faesal’s political party, among them was former Jawaharlal National University (JNU) student leader Shehla Rashid Shora. There was a growing wave of the slogan “ab hawa badlegi.”

August Abrogation

When Delhi demolished the special status of J&K and divided into two union terrorities, Shah Faesal was not in Kashmir. Reacting to the development, he warned that Kashmir needed a “non-violent political mass movement for restoration of political rights”. In a warning that attitudes could be hardening, Faesal said, “you can either be a stooge or a separatist now”.

Taking to Twitter, Faesal wrote, “Kashmir will need a long, sustained, non-violent political mass movement for restoration of the political rights. The abolition of Article 370 has finished the mainstream. Constitutionalists are gone. So you can either be a stooge or a separatist now. No shades of grey.”

Commenting over the Eid celebrations post-August 5 2019, Faesal had tweeted, “There is no Eid. Kashmiris across the world are mourning the illegal annexation of their land. There shall be no Eid till everything that has been stolen and snatched since 1947 is returned back. No Eid till the last bit of insult is avenged and undone.”

After a few days, Faesal on August 14 was detained at Delhi airport as he tried to board a flight to Istanbul. A day before on August 13 while speaking to the BBC’s Hardtalk programme, he had said that he was apprehensive about being detained. “I’m ashamed of myself that I’m free at a time when the entire leadership of Kashmir is in jail,” he said.

He was later flown back to Srinagar, held under section 107 of the CrPC detained along with other political leaders in Srinagar’s SKICC, initially and later was taken to MLA hostel. In February 2020, the J&K administration booked him under the draconian Public Safety Act.

In June, nearly after completing ten months in detention, PSA of Faesal was revoked and he was released. However, as per the reports, he was “informally” told not to move out of his home.

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