Following a year of rumors of Shah Faesal joining an existing mainstream political party, he took to stage on 17 March, launching his own political front Jammu and Kashmir’s People’s Movement (JKPM) in Gindun Park of Srinagar’s posh Rajbagh area in front of hundreds of people eyes were stuck on his journey from a bureaucrat to a ‘representative’, and ears on what new is he going to add in the political void of Kashmir.
Hope and expectation were the two most heard words during former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) topper Dr. Faesal’s address, but despite that and everything else, JKPM’s vision document is anything but old wine in a new bottle.
On 9 January 2019, Dr. Faesal resigned from IAS, citing, via Twitter, the “unabated killings of Kashmiris”. He also added that this step was also a protest against “the marginalization of round 200 million Indian Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces reducing them to second class citizens; insidious attacks on the special status of the state and growing culture of intolerance in mainland India.”
Attendees in the address pinned hopes on Dr. Faesal on the stage, shared with former JNU students union Vice-President, Shehla Rashid Shora, and expected the address regarding “genuine issues” of the “alienated people of Kashmir”.
A Ph.D. scholar, Raiees Ahmad from Handwara was among hundreds of youngsters present in the park, who have never voted in the past. Waiting eagerly for the speech, he said, “I have never voted or intended to vote in the past,” but, he could draw parallels with the political idea of Dr. Faesal, as Mr. Ahmad puts: “The politics of development, the politics where one does not seek power for the sake of power but to address the issues of development.”
As per Mr. Ahmad, and what he believes the mainstream walks on, the existing political parties have got sufficient time to prove what they propagated in campaigns. “However, they failed in power,” he said, and the element of strong dislike towards these existing parties is evident in voter turnouts.
Kashmir Valley went to by-elections for Srinagar’s parliamentary seat in April 2017 and witnessed a record low voter turnout of 7 percent; eight people were killed and dozens of others were injured during anti-election protests. It was followed by a bloody year with the highest number of killings in Kashmir in the past decade.
“Sajad Lone, for example, had a vision. But, when he got on the field, he aligned with a pro-Hindutva party instead,” Mr. Ahmad said supporting the argument.
36-year-old, Dr. Faesal, born in Sogam village of Lolab Valley in northern Kashmir’s Kupwara district, studied in government school Sogam, is a qualified doctor from Government Medical College Srinagar. But, he shot to headlines when he topped the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams in 2010.
But, keeping aside the stature he is trying to create, sitting alongside Shehla Rashid Shora, a political activist, Dr. Faesal unveiled the vision document of his party.
‘But, what is there to trust him?’
“Kashmir needs a break from status quo,” said Mehrajuddin, a political science researcher. “That event was a replica of what other electoral parties have been doing in all these years.”
JKPM’s vision document states that the party will work for sustainable peace in J-K by making the people politically empowered, economically prosperous, socially emancipated, ethically evolved… and more keywords. It also states that the JKPM will leverage the geo-strategic position of the state to make it the gateway to Central Asia—a “Look Up-North” center for the subcontinent.
The researcher questioned: Why should people trust Dr. Faesal? “Every common Kashmiri is asking the same, that too when its pro-electoral predecessors only propagated what Delhi’s whilst in power.”
On Sunday, scores of people turned up from Bandipora, where Dr. Faesal once served as District Commissioner. “We have seen his work in Bandipora. He is very honest and true to his word,” a group of residents from Ajas said.
One of the villagers, Muhammad Jamal Ahangar, confessed of being a supporter of an existing party, he said, “the party never delivered its promises. Since we have seen Faesal’s work, we believe he will address the genuine concerns of the people.”
‘Old wine in the new bottle’
Mr. Mehraj perceives Dr. Faesal’s vision document as a replica of what Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) promised ahead of 2014 elections. “The political manifesto of JKPM is what PDP was saying before 2014 elections,” he said, “Rest is history!”
Earlier, PDP unveiled a vision document titled “Self-Rule framework for Resolution of Kashmir Valley Issue”, stating the moto to strengthen the “autonomy” intended to create a trans-LoC greater J-K comprising this part of J-K, Pakistan-Administered-Kashmir, and the northern areas. The document also intended to create the whole divided state of J-K into demilitarised free trade area.
In an interview with The Kashmir Walla ten days after he resigned, Dr. Faesal stated that his manifesto for the people would be straight as: “I am here to represent you. I will represent Kashmir’s sentiment. I am somebody who is responsible to you and I know this fundamental truth about Kashmir needs to be told.”
But, almost two months after that, when he was standing on the stage in Gindun Park, the vision document of JKPM, didn’t seem as brave and blunt as his Twitter. Singing the rhetoric rhyme of change via development merely added another square in an existing cube.
If Dr. Faesal is doing something new, as per his vision, other than mimicking previous parties’ failed vision, is targeting the youth of Kashmir.
Right before Lok Sabha elections, which JKPM will not be contesting, the domestic re-shuffle has started again. Former PDP’s legislator Javaid Mustafa Mir joined hands with Shah Faesal on 27 March. Sweeping aside the speculations of the simultaneous assembly elections in J-K, Election Commission of India (ECI) has left the state clinging to uncertainties yet again.
Abdul Rafi is a freelance journalist based in Kashmir.