In January this year, a former Indian bureaucrat from Jammu and Kashmir, Shah Faesal, created a storm of sorts, by announcing his resignation as a civil servant, saying “the unabated killings in Kashmir and the marginalisation and invisibalisation of around 200 million Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces (in India)”, as a reason.
Faesal, who topped the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) examination in 2010, was the talk of the town for about a fortnight after his dramatic resignation. Given the galloping pace of events in Kashmir, nothing remains in the news for too long. But Faesal continues to attract attention every now and then, days after his resignation.
However, it was the much-hyped air strikes by both Pakistan and India against each other (after the Pulwama attack) that stole Faesal’s limelight. By mid-March, Faesal formally started his political innings by launching a political party named ‘Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Movement’. This was Faesal’s political debut.
As a headline hunter, he ticks many a box. But, what next?
Is Faesal New Delhi’s ‘Poster Boy’?
In the eyes of many of his critics, Faesal is perceived as ‘Delhi’s poster boy’ and one who is on a mission to give ‘impetus to the less attractive unionist politics’ in Jammu and Kashmir. They see his JKPM as ‘JKPDP-II minus Mufti Sayeed’.
The slogan of his party is “#AbHawaBadlegi” (“The wind will change now”). Sources within JKPM reveal that the party’s slogan was coined by a radio jockey known to Faesal. One of the many questions being asked is: how will the winds change when former PDP legislators like Javaid Mustafa Mir and sarpanches affiliated with unionist parties, are becoming part of the JKPM?
How can the over-ambitious and opportunistic student mobilisers, notorious for flip-flops from ‘Lal Salaam (communist / atheist ideology) to Durood-o-Salaam (religious ideology)’, bring about a change in Kashmir?
One more objection that is being raised is the one about lack of clarity in JKPM’s vision document. All of these are legitimate questions. There are legitimate concerns too.
In one of his articles that Faesal co-authored with another Kashmiri writer Mehboob Makhdoomi that was published in The Indian Express on 3 January 2019, the predominant argument was that “At the root of the political problem in Kashmir is the paradox that those who represent the sentiment do not participate in the electoral process, and those who participate in the electoral process do not represent the sentiment... This needs to change.”
How Will Faesal’s JKPM Differ From Omar’s JKNC & Mehbooba Mufti’s JKPDP?
Will Faesal be yet another ‘helpless daily-wager with the Government of India’ who will represent Delhi in Kashmir, not Kashmir in Delhi? He has, thus far, failed to satisfactorily answer this question. At his maiden press conference at a local hotel in Srinagar, Faesal had made a bold statement. That he will bring a new vocabulary and idiom into electoral politics, implying that, talking about the right to self-determination of the people of J&K would no longer be considered a taboo inside the J&K Legislative Assembly.
Clearly, this is easier said than done.
But JKPM’s vision document is silent on this issue. There is old vocabulary and old idioms in the party’s vision document. Nothing new.
No Convincing Answers From Faesal Yet
In one of his many interactions with the youth of Kashmir, one young man asked some uncomfortable questions to him, “If tomorrow you become the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and the civilian killings continue unabated, what will you do? Will you resign? What will you prefer then, what will matter to you: Kashmiri lives or lust for power?
For now, Faesal doesn’t seem to have convincing answers to such questions. However, many of his admirers are of the opinion that Faesal has his heart at the right place, that his intentions are good, and that he is incorruptible. They often talk about his stint as director of the education department to shower accolades on his honesty and work ethic.
There are some who have never voted in life, but are ready to take a risk with the aim to give him a chance to prove his credentials as a new-age politician. Some of them are worried about his pace though. They think he is taking too many decisions, and too fast. This lot wants him to invest in long-term politics at the grassroots level, and make JKPM a mass movement, which, according to them, can possibly represent the larger political aspiration of Kashmiris. In simple words, they see him as a prototype of Imran Khan and Arvind Kejriwal.
Faesal Needs to Speak in Unambiguous Terms
Headlines are fine if Faesal’s aim is to only attract headlines. In order to make a real and long-lasting impact on Kashmir’s sticky political turf and edgy landscape, he ought to speak in unambiguous words and not replicate the PDP model. Tried and tested failures won’t bring different results.
Faesal must remember what Delhi did to former prime ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, such as Sheikh Abdullah (1953-75) and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, and former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah (1984) and Mehbooba Mufti (2018). Faesal should not over-estimate himself like the late Mufti Sayeed.
Faesal Must Walk the Talk
There is a certain red line that defines unionist politics in Jammu and Kashmir. Those who have dared to cross the red line have been punished, be it Sheikh Abdullah (1953) or Mehbooba Mufti (2018). In 2016, a senior unionist politician told this writer that “the mainstream politics in Kashmir is at the precipice of irrelevance.”
On 1 April 2019, Faesal took a dig at BJP President Amit Shah, who had said that Article 35-A should be abrogated. Faesal tweeted: “Amit Shah: BJP will abrogate Article 35A before 2020. Faesal Shah: JKPM will restore PMJK post by 2020.”
Clearly, Faesal was talking about the post of prime minister in Jammu and Kashmir, a constitutional position that was renamed as “chief minister” in the 1960s. But then, it was 1 April. And all of us know about the tradition of cracking practical jokes and spreading hoaxes on that day.
His party has also decided against participating in the upcoming parliamentary elections, a decision which Faesal is trying to sell as ‘sacrifice’, like his resignation as a bureaucrat. Behind this claim over ‘sacrifice’ lies an assumption that his party would have won some seats in Lok Sabha elections.
Meanwhile, Faesal should remember and also respect the fact that Kashmir continues to be the ‘graveyard of reputations’. With clarity of thought and action, he can hope to become a game-changer. In the absence of clarity, Faesal will only be perceived as Delhi’s poster boy, and someone on a mission to assign legitimacy to unionist politics in J&K.
The ball is in his court. He must walk the talk.
(The writer is a journalist, columnist and analyst. He tweets @gowhargeelani. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)