From MBBS to IAS & Politics, Tracing the Journey of Shah Faesal

On Monday, 10 August, Shah Faesal stepped down as the president of Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM).

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Hindi Female

“I did not want to lead Kashmiris down the garden path and raise unrealistic expectations,” Shah Faesal told The Indian Express, explaining why he quit politics.

Kashmir is facing a new political reality, insisted Faesal.

His interview comes a day after he stepped down as the president of Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM).

The Indian Express reports that Faisal did not provide a direct answer on being asked about his future plans. He merely said:

“I don’t know what’s stored  in 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.”   

Shah Faesal also deleted most of his old tweets, as well as his former political credentials from his Twitter bio.

His Twitter account now simply lists two tweets, and his bio reads:

“Edward S Fellow @ HKS Harvard University. Medico. Fulbright. Centrist.”
On Monday, 10 August, Shah Faesal stepped down as the president of Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM).

But, Who is Shah Faesal?

Faesal, who hails from Kashmir’s Kupwara, was born in 1983 to a family of teachers.

His father was gunned down by militants when he was 19 years old.

In one of his earliest interviews, Faesal had told The Times Of India:

“I have watched the bloodshed in Kashmir very closely. I was devastated when my father Ghulam Rasool Shah was gunned down. It is him that I miss the most today. He used to dote on me and taught me English and Maths when I studied in school.”   

Shah Faesal studied medicines, received his MBBS degree, and in 2010 became the first Kashmiri ever to top the civil services exam.

However, despite his academic excellence, his role as a civil servant was often questioned – sometimes by others, and on occasion by his own self.


‘Unbecoming of a Public Servant’

In 2018, the Jammu and Kashmir government had initiated disciplinary action against Shah Faesal, then an IAS officer, and a former IAS exam topper, for a 2010 tweet about the causes behind frequent instances of rape in the region.

The General Administration Department (GAD) had issued a notice to Faesal alleging that he had been dishonest and acted in a manner “unbecoming of a public servant”.

But that was only the beginning.

In 2018, Faesal took a sabbatical from the services and went to Harvard Kennedy School on a Fullbright fellowship.

In January 2019, Faesal announced his resignation from the civil services, and held a press conference in which he declared his reasons for doing so:

“This resignation is a small act of defiance to remind the central government of its responsibility towards the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”   
Shah Faesal

Further, he laid emphasis on the “insidious attacks on the special identity of J&K state”.

“The constitutional arrangement, which exists between J&K and Union of India under Article 370 and 35A, has been constantly invoked for electoral gains in the rest of the country. I’m appalled by the failure of the government to facilitate the homecoming of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley and lack of initiative to bring peace to the lives of border residents of the state.”   
Shah Faesal, January, 2019

He also expressed distress over the rise of mob-lynching incidents, curbing of free speech, and the rise of intolerance in the country.

Tryst With Politics and Detention

Faesal had, in January 2019, announced that he would not be joining any political party. However, in February 2019, Shah gave a speech in his hometown of Kupwara where he compared his experience in the IAS with the feeling of having "spent the last 10 years in a jail” and informed NDTV that he would be launching his own political party.

On 21 March, JKPM was formed.

On 5 August 2019, however, J&K’s special status was revoked with the abrogation of Article 370, many political leaders were detained and political discourse in Jammu and Kashmir was gagged.

Within days Faesal was picked up from the Delhi airport and put under detention, placing a lid firmly on all his political activity.


‘Can’t Destroy My Life for Those Who Won’t Cry for Me’

Days after his release from nearly a year-long detention in August 2020, Faesal announced his decision to step down from politics.

Faesal also told The Indian Express that the detention had proved to be an “immense learning phase for him”.

“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.”   
Shah Faesal to The Indian Express.

Faesal’s future plans are unclear. But, reportedly, his name has still not been struck off from the list of IAS officers in J&K.

It is being speculated by many that Faesal will either pursue further education, or make a comeback to the administration.

(With inputs from The Indian Express, NDTV and The Times of India.)

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