Shah Faesal’s ‘Ghar-Wapsi’: Why J&K’s ‘Sponsored’ Politics Failed

Shah Faesal’s political failure is one among a series of attempts by the Centre to restart politics in J&K. 

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Image of Shah Faesal used for representational purposes.
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Shah Faesal’s exit from politics is yet another indication of the Central government finding itself up the creek and without a paddle in Jammu and Kashmir. Its attempt at in vitro fertilisation of a ‘new’ politics in J&K, minus the ‘three dynastic parties’ – (the Congress, the National Conference and the Peoples’ Democratic Party) has failed yet again.

Smart, articulate, topper of the All-India Civil Services examination, a Fulbright Scholar and a Harvard-returned scholar to boot, Faesal was misled into thinking he could be the new leader that J&K never had – perhaps, one day, even the chief minister of the (now erstwhile) state. However, from being head of a political party in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), he will perhaps now go back to being a bureaucrat once again.

If Shah Faesal’s Arrest Was ‘Staged’ To Help Him Gain Politically, Those Efforts Have Failed

The agencies of the government are adept at operationalising absurd plans to please Delhi. Faesal’s party, the J&K Peoples’ Movement (JKPM) never lived up to its name and also managed to besmirch many gullible young Kashmiris, including the budding student leader Shehla Rashid. However, she was smart enough to quit within seven months of joining Faesal’s party.

Events following the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 suggest that Faesal’s short political career was orchestrated by the State, with a charade of arrests and releases to prop up his claim as a political leader. He was first detained along with other political leaders after the constitutional changes of 5 August 2019. However, he was released – and arrested again nine days later in Delhi attempting to ‘escape’ to Turkey.

No one is clear why he was released in the first place, how he left Srinagar (which was under a complete lockdown) for Delhi, and who facilitated his stay in Delhi before he tried to flee to Turkey.

Unnamed sources told the media that Faesal was planning to declare a parallel Kashmiri government from Turkey. In February 2020, he was charged under the Public Safety Act, which was revoked on 3 June, but he was kept under house arrest. If his detention and arrest were staged to help him gain political credibility, these efforts seem to have come to nought. Unable to make a dent in the J&K politics and forced to abandon his political ambitions, he now awaits the government’s benediction to get his life back in order.

Snapshot
  • Smart, articulate, topper of the All-India Civil Services examination, a Fulbright Scholar and a Harvard-returned scholar to boot, Faesal was misled into thinking he could be the new leader that J&K never had.
  • Faesal’s political failure is one among a series of attempts by the Centre to restart politics in J&K.
  • Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also started losing ground in J&K.
  • The BJP in J&K is clearly not in a position to provide an alternative to the mainstream political parties.
  • There is no effective new political party or person who can carry forward the Central government’s agenda.

Shah Faesal’s Political Failure

The speculation in J&K is that Faesal may be appointed as a political advisor to the new Lieutenant Governor in a bid to restart the political process in J&K. After the failure of his political career one doubts what acumen he would bring to the job. Perhaps those who sent him on a wild goose chase now have to find ways to accommodate, keeping in mind that he is now a marked man.

Faesal’s political failure is one among a series of attempts by the Centre to restart politics in J&K.

At one time, Sajjad Lone was its chosen instrument after the fall of PDP-BJP alliance government led by Mehbooba Mufti. Despite his political ambitions Lone could not muster the numbers for a majority.

Centre’s Hopes For A New Political Leadership In Kashmir

Then the Centre thought that a new political leadership could be grown from the Panchs and Sarpanchs elected to the village bodies. Union Home Minister Amit Shah presented them as the new instrument for spreading democracy, who would receive development funds directly and help side-line the ‘three families’ (Nehru-Gandhis, Abdullahs and the Muftis) who had long decided Kashmir’s destiny.

The Panchs and Sarpanchs were brought to Delhi to meet the prime minister and photos with of some of them in long beards, were presented as if to suggest that some militant Muslim fundamentalists had come around to the democratic process. In reality, they thought they had become prime targets of militants and refused to go back to their villages. The government had to announce free insurance of Rs 2 lakhs for each of them, and them put up in Srinagar hotels as going back to their villages meant risking their lives.

The more enterprising amongst them got into informal rent-sharing agreements with Srinagar hotel owners – staying with friends and family while splitting fifty-fifty the boarding and lodging expenses paid to the hotel owners by the government.

Then a former PDP minister and businessman, Altaf Bukhari, was marshalled with the sword of the National Investigative Agency (NIA) hanging over him to form a political party. With his brother already having been questioned about money laundering – the threat was the Bukhari could be next. Bukhari too succumbed and fell in line, launching the J&K Apni Party with residual elements from both the National Conference and the PDP. That experiment also shows little promise.

BJP In Kashmir Is Not In A Position To Offer An Alternative To Mainstream Parties

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also started losing ground in J&K. In the Valley, its leaders are being killed in a targeted manner by militants. Since May 2020, five BJP workers have been shot dead and six others injured in attacks. Fear has led to a spate of resignations from the party in the Kashmir Valley. In Jammu too, there is resentment as the leadership of the party has moved into the hands of Kashmir Pandits from the Dogras.

The BJP in J&K is clearly not in a position to provide an alternative to the mainstream political parties.

There is no effective new political party or person who can carry forward the Central government’s agenda. The mainstream political parties are hobbled – by their past record, the dynastic limits on upward political mobility and their opportunism. And the BJP exists largely only in the Jammu region.

It would seem therefore that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Naya Kashmir’ is not yet ready for the new politics that he wanted to usher in. All attempts to prop up political actors willing to do the Centre’s bidding after the revocation of the special status of J&K, have failed or show no promise. Shah Faesal’s ‘ghar-wapsi’ (return home’) only highlights that failure.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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