‘Shah Faesal is upset that Kashmir did not protest, wants to move abroad’

Published : August 12, 2020 15:17 IST

Shah Faesal (clockwise, third from left) with leaders of mainstream political parties under detention at the Srinagar MLA hostel, in June. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Shah Faesal, while in detention, was "upset" that there were no [significant] protests in Kashmir following the revocation of Kashmir’s special status and the mass arrests of unionist leaders that followed, according to exclusive information available to Frontline. Speculation is rife that the former IAS officer-turned-politician would return to the bureaucracy. However, sources close to him say that he is keen to leave India for assignments abroad but "his options are limited since the government may not permit his movement out of the country". 

Before Faesal dropped his status as president of Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM) from his Twitter handle, he apparently exchanged views with several leaders cutting across party lines. In these conversations, he is said to have hinted that returning to the bureaucracy was an option that could be explored, though his preference was to move out of India. Faesal had floated the JKPM in March 2019 amid considerable fanfare.

Says a senior Kashmiri unionist leader with whom Faesal spoke at length over a WhatsApp call recently: "In a long and twisted conversation, he [Shah Faesal] complained that nobody from Kashmir protested when all of us were arrested and why should anybody among us care for them." 

This leader told Frontline that Faesal "ducked" the question of his joining the J&K government as an adviser, as is rumoured in the media. "Faesal did not answer that question but conveyed general appreciation and agreement with the view that it may not have been a wise decision to leave the civil services to opt for politics in a conflict zone," the politician quoted said.

Other political detainees who were with Faesal at Hotel Centaur and later at the MLA Hostel in Srinagar confirmed to Frontline that "Faesal displayed low morale" and was "very scared" while in detention. A leader belonging to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said, "He [Faesal] did not give indication that New Delhi facilitated his entry into politics, though this question was alluded [to him]. He largely avoided company of mature and seasoned members who could ask him much."

As per Faesal’s fellow detainees at the MLA Hostel, "Playing cards was his pet job, from 10 to 10." Another PDP leader said, "He [Faesal] would often tell us that he has an offer from a top league university abroad and since there is no scope of mainstream politics post-August 5, he would like to move abroad for a couple of years."

Shah Faesal has long battled the perception that he has been "planted" into Jammu and Kashmir’s political arena by New Delhi. Political analysts believe that before Jammu and Kashmir was downgraded into a Union Territory and its semi-autonomous status withdrawn on August 5, the National Conference was on a good wicket to sweep the Assembly election. Faesal could have been launched by the Centre to fragment that likely mandate. A single-party majority in Jammu and Kashmir is not desired by New Delhi, seasoned observers on Kashmir aver.  

Sources told Frontline that Faesal’s wife, Iram Shah, a KAS officer, played a "decisive role" in his quitting politics and "thinking in terms of joining the bureaucracy again". In an interaction with this reporter in May, Iram Shah said: "I am not sure he will continue politics. He might go for higher studies once he comes out." There is reliable information that Faesal travelled to New Delhi before announcing his exit from politics. 

The IAS topper, 37, justified his exit from politics in an interview to a Srinagar-based English daily. He said that he did not want to "deceive Kashmiris at a time when facts on the ground have changed". Faesal’s words mirror the overwhelming sense in the Kashmir Valley that the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status obliterated the space for mainstream political actors, the fulcrum of whose politics rested on a symbolic struggle for autonomy or self-rule.

Faesal’s resignation as an IAS officer was not accepted by the government. There is precedence where bureaucrats quit their jobs, only to return at a later date. An example in Kashmir can be found in Sajad Mufti, a cousin of former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who left the Indian Forest Service in 2014 to join the PDP but was inducted again in July this year. 

Faesal was apprehended at the New Delhi international airport on the intervening night of August 13 and 14, 2019, when he attempted to board a flight to Istanbul. The arrest followed an interview by him to BBC, in which he said that in the changed political landscape in Kashmir one could be either a separatist or a stooge and that he would certainly not be a stooge. Faesal was set free on June 3.

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