After serving one year in jail following erasure of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status in August 2019 Shah Faesal has quit politics and is likely to rejoin the IAS again. In an interview, Faesal tells Khalid Bashir Gura that he was thankful to the government for detaining him as this had brought him back to senses.
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): You wore many hats but it seems you have still not settled down?
SHAH FAESAL (SF): You remind of Nida Fazili’s famous lines:
Apni marzi se, kaha apne safar ke hum haen.
Rukh hawaonka jidhar ka hai, udhar ke hum haen.
Life is a meaning-making exercise. I also tried to hop from role to role to find more meaningful ways of doing things. But yes I agree. I’m turning old and I need to settle down now. And that’s what I am doing.
I went to prison and ten months later when I came out I saw people abusing and denigrating me. Now should I spend the rest of my life in convincing people that I mean well or should I fight the larger battle that’s the question before me
KL: An aspiration politician who wanted to change the system and processes in Kashmir has himself changed. What happened?
SF: You might have seen this meme: Waqt badal diya jazbaat badal diye halaat badal diye. Howsoever comical it might sound, August 5 decisions have actually done that to us. Everything changed. And it’s a noble saying that we must keep pace with time. I am too small a person to run counter to the tide of time.
KL: You raised many hopes among the youth and also managed considerable support. But now you have decided to leave the game. How will you face them?
SF: I am facing them boldly. As I said earlier also I treat honesty as the most important value in life. I might sound coward. But that’s worse than being dishonest. If I can’t continue in politics because I feel I am unable to make a difference what’s wrong in admitting it and moving on.
KL: You went out with fundraising for your movement. People participated and facilitated. How to answer those aspirations?
SF: We collected six lac one hundred rupees. Every bit of it was spent on cancer patients, pellet victims and poor people. We are giving accounts. I have not spent a penny on myself. Some of them will certainly be dejected but my reply to that is we have spent money on the neediest people.
KL: There were accusations that whatever you do are all about yourself. Your decision added to that story?
SF: Name some people who do it for others alone? I’m not a monk who has renounced the world. I have aspirations too. I want to have a good life for myself first and then help others. Am I the only person who thinks like that?
KL: You had promised publicly that you will fight for the dignity of Kashmir. Kashmir has never been as vulnerable as it is today. What happened to your vows?
SF: These are very big battles. I can’t fight these battles alone. I went to prison and ten months later when I came out I saw people abusing and denigrating me. Now should I spend the rest of my life in convincing people that I mean well or should I fight the larger battle that’s the question before me. I realized that I am alone in this and I should not even try going there where I can’t make any difference.
KL: You had a role model, Imran Khan. He spent more than 20 years on the political sidelines. He never gave up. You even could not complete two years?
SF: Reality dawned on me too soon. I’m thankful to the government for detaining me. This brought me back to senses. I got a ringside view of life. I saw the same people looking other way who used to be my closest friends. That’s when I realized that I’m trying a dangerous path at a wrong place and time.
KL: You castigated the leadership of the country and resigned. Were you not aware the path ahead is full of challenges?
SF: I certainly was. And soon afterwards I realized that my resignation had done more harm than good. New civil services aspirants felt discouraged. My own colleagues felt hurt. I lost all the goodwill that I had in the rest of the country.
KL: As you say you want to “undo” the perception of what in the last couple of years were built around you. Do you regret your stand taken in the past?
SF: See those of us who think within the Constitution of India have to understand that there are thin red lines. We are either here or there. Some of my utterances were certainly problematic.
KL: If as per your statement “murder of constitution” has been done, how you will manage to undo that?
SF: I thought about it. I think we were rather indiscrete with our statements at that time. The emotions were high and we had no idea what lay on the other side of the cloud. A year later I see it as a new democratic consensus at the national level. If we believe in democracy then we have to also believe that the consensus will keep changing. It so changed from 1949 to 2019. We might not like a few things but the question is do we have the power to change it?
KL: Post abrogation, you said Kashmir will need a long, sustained, non-violent mass movement for restoration of political rights. You have given up. Whom do you expect to fight now?
SF: There are better and stronger people than me who will fight whatever battles Kashmiris want to fight. I tried my bit but didn’t get the support of the people. I want to leave it there and move on.
I think we were rather indiscrete with our statements at that time. The emotions were high and we had no idea what lay on the other side of the cloud. A year later I see it as a new democratic consensus at the national level. If we believe in democracy then we have to also believe that the consensus will keep changing
KL: Now after you have left politics, how would Kashmir see Shah Faesal, a stooge or a separatist?
SF: This ideological binary was introduced to me by a famous Kashmiri economist. Our tragedy is that in a polarized debate one group saw me as a stooge and another a separatist at the same time. I made it clear that time also that I am neither of them.
KL: As you talked to the media, there is a slight regret that you have shown. People have not stood up for you while you were in detention. Many top leaders in the past met the same fate. Nobody quit?
SF: Everyone is dejected and upset. We don’t want anyone to protest for us. But everyone wants respect. After staying in jail you don’t want your mother’s and sisters to be abused.
KL: Was your leadership subservient to what people do or you wanted to lead them for a better future?
SF: Leader and the led are like a symphony orchestra. There has to be complete respect and trust for one another. In a conflict zone like ours, this basic rule of symphony doesn’t get followed. The result is chaos.
KL: There are rumours, from you joining the civil services back or going for further studies. What is on your mind?
SF: I have no idea as of now. I want to move on and do something positive if I can. Away from the din of politics, away from this blame game. Let’s see where the winds of destiny take me.