Shah Faesal’s resignation from the bureaucracy – citing “unabated killings” of civilians – in January 2019 made the headlines as prominently as his resignation from politics today, about eighteen months later.
The young bureaucrat plunged into politics just months before the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomy but failed to break the ice with the people and remained on the margins of politics in Kashmir. After the abrogation in August 2019, Mr. Faesal had lashed out at New Delhi, during an interview with the British public broadcaster, the BBC. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said, had “murdered” the constitution and after the abrogation, there were only two options left for Kashmiris: to be either “separatists or stooges”.
Today, however, Mr. Faesal has eaten his own words as he reconciles with New Delhi, once again reiterating his loyalty towards mainland India. In an interview with The Kashmir Walla, Mr. Faesal spoke about the introspection during his detention, his changed understanding of politics in J-K, and future of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM)–the party he founded in 2019 and with which he parted ways just last week. The excerpts have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What reaction did you expect from people after your detention, and of other unionists in August 2019?
No reaction at all. I was a newcomer to this field and I didn’t have many friends there. Still, I got a lot of love from the people.
But eight months into detention, when I saw some people — I repeat, some vocal people — abusing a local journalist, who had done a story on my detention, I realised that it is wrong to expect even a bit of respect in this space.
What introspection did you do during the detention? How did it change your politics?
I thought about the new political realities. Domestic and geopolitical. I said to myself that if I believe in working within the Constitution of India then where is the disagreement?
If my statements can bring back Article 370, I will say it aloud. But if the change is chemical, and I’m too small to reverse it [then] why should I not admit it with all humility and move on.
How did the August 2019 decision change your understanding of J-K politics?
It made me realise that I am too small an actor in this big theatre. Electoral politics will always remain important in a democracy. Sooner or later, the electoral process will get revived in J-K. Mainstream has a great role to play and my exit doesn’t mean mainstream is not relevant anymore.
Some reports suggest you were pressurized to quit politics. Was there any pressure from any side or this is just what you wanted?
Absolutely not. I just didn’t want to raise expectations. If I can’t bring back Article 370, why should I keep talking about it?
Those in the political field who believe they still can reverse 5 August decisions, partly or fully, have every right to be there and continue their politics. But I am quitting with all humility.
You roped in many people for the project — JKPM. Now, as you leave politics, have you abandoned them?
People open schools. I had started JKPM. To train a new generation of activists. That party is still there. I am sure they will do very well even without me.
What is your impression of bureaucracy in J-K? Has anything changed after August 2019?
Bureaucracy is [a] permanent executive. It stands for continuity. Economic, political, [and] social change is a slow process. Rome was not built in a day.