Srinagar: After launching his own party, former bureaucrat Shah Faesal has now decided to quit politics in less than 18 months and is now being labelled as the “resignation man” once again. After stepping down as the president of Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM), there is speculation that the bureaucrat-turned-politician may now turn bureaucrat again, as his resignation was not accepted.
In an interview with Mudasir Ahmad of The Wire, Faesal responded to questions sent to him via WhatsApp about his decision to quit politics, the state of politics in Kashmir after the August 5, 2019 move by the Centre to revoke the region’s special status and his plans for the future. Edited excerpts follow.
Your decision to quit the IAS and form a political party was seen as a bold move at the time. You promised to provide an electoral alternative to people, especially the youth. So why have you quit politics?
Jammu and Kashmir is confronting a new political reality since the August 5 decisions last year. I was a newcomer. I got to spend only a few months in grassroots activism before I was detained.
Looking back, I realise that my resignation has done more harm than good. I came to be seen as some sort of a “resignation man” who couldn’t use the civil services effectively as a platform. Then, the unique nature of Kashmiri politics and some statements I made meant that my small act of dissent was seen as an act of treason. It discouraged many youngsters who wanted to join the civil services and upset many colleagues, who saw it as an unceremonious exit from the system.
At the time you formed JKPM, you said that Kashmir needed change, the kind which the established parties and the civil service were not capable of providing. Were you wrong to make that diagnosis?
It is not about the diagnosis being wrong. I never said that you couldn’t do great things as an officer. But the fact of the matter is that in a democracy like ours, politics does offer a wider canvas for making an impact. In my case, what was problematic was the way I entered politics, not the politics per se.
After your arrest in the aftermath of the August 5 moves, you were one of the few political leaders to quickly move a habeas corpus petition (in the Delhi high court). Yet, even though the court was prepared to issue notice and hear the matter, your petition was withdrawn. What was the reason?
These [detention of leaders] are political decisions and I didn’t want to pursue a judicial remedy for it.
Are you still under house arrest? What is your precise legal status?
There are restrictions on all movements due to security reasons.
Have you been asked to sign a bond committing yourself to silence on the Kashmir issue as a condition of your release?
I was booked under the Public Safety Act and there is no requirement of a bond. I was released without conditions.
Since August 5, 2019, how has the political scenario in Kashmir changed?
To be honest, August 5 has eliminated a grey zone in which you could work within the Indian constitutional framework and still resist what we call ‘full-scale integration’ of the state. But revocation of Article 370 has generated a new national consensus where you are either with India, mind, body and soul, or you are against it. I think it has simplified things. You are either here or there.
Tell us about the circumstances under which you were detained after you were about to board a flight? Did the J&K police produce you before a magistrate in Delhi and obtain transit remand?
I was brought to Srinagar and a magistrate here gave the transit remand.
Last March, while launching JKPM, you said, “It is the youth who has been the victims. The youth face pellets and bullets and it is the youth who die. Youth representation is a must for us. We want to save our youth, who are sacrificing their lives.”
Do you believe the decisions the Centre has taken over the past year – reading down Articles 370 and 35A, abolishing statehood for J&K, changing domicile rules – will help reduce violence?
It is a developing story. I don’t want to make vain predictions. Kashmir is a very unpredictable place. I can only hope that we see a future that is free of violence and Jammu and Kashmir gets to fully be a part of the country’s developmental journey.
During the launch of JKPM, you said that after spending 10 years in the system, thinking that roads, schools, hospitals and education and employment will bring peace, you finally realised that your diagnosis was wrong. You said, “Untill bloodshed continues in Kashmir…development is of no use.”
Yet, in one of your recent interviews, after quitting JKPM, you have again spoken about your interest in education, health, poverty alleviation and employment generation and your wish to contribute to improving these sectors. Were you right then or now?
I’m talking about my expertise. These issues of education, health, unemployment will always be important. What I meant was that the ecosystem in which economic development happens needs attention as well.
Last year, you described the scrapping of Article 370 as “murder of constitution in the house of people (parliament).” A year on, do you still stand by this statement?
I realised that I was questioning the very raison d etre of representative democracy. In 1949, it was the same parliament that inserted the Article into the constitution and in 2019, it was parliament which scrapped it. The national consensus is dynamic in a democracy and it has to be respected beyond time and space. I think I was not discreet with my reactions at that time.
There is speculation that you wish to return to the IAS. Please tell us about your plans.
Honestly speaking, at this stage, I just left politics so that I can articulate my understanding of the issues without being politically correct. I have a life ahead of me. I’m ready to take life as it comes. Not as a ‘resignation man’ but as a ‘performance man’.
The Wire asked two follow up questions via WhatsApp, and received an answer to one of them
Many leaders who contested elections in the past and were taken into custody have been asked to sign binds committing themselves to silence about the J&K situation as a condition of their release. Do you think this demand by the government is compatible with democracy?
I was booked under PSA. and to be hones no one asked me to sign a bond. Those who do not want to sign a bond have the option to seek judicial remedies. CRPC- the law of the land allows good behaviour bonds to be taken and I don’t think I can question the law.
They allow good behaviour bonds but not bonds that commit someone to not comment on the political situation in the state. Are those bonds legal and compatible with democracy?