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Does Shah Faesal’s Exit Mark End Of Kashmir’s ‘Experiment’ With Alternative Politics?

In March 2019, when Faesal launched his political party, Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement, the bureaucrat had compared himself to the likes of Sheikh Abdullah. In April 2022, however, he called his eight months of political activism 'chasing a chimaera'.

 Former IAS officer Shah Faesal with former JNU student leader and activist Shehla Rashid
Former IAS officer Shah Faesal with former JNU student leader and activist Shehla Rashid PTI (File Photo)

Former Jammu and Kashmir bureaucrat Shah Faesal is all set to leave behind the ‘shadows of the past’ and return to the civil services after quitting in 2019. The move is seen by many as a last-ditch effort by Faesal to return to his former life after failing to make a mark in the valley’s politics despite his grand ambitions.

In March 2019, when Faesal launched his political party, Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement, the bureaucrat had compared himself to the likes of Sheikh Abdullah. In April 2022, however, he called his eight months (Jan 2019-Aug 2019) of political activism as “chasing a chimaera.” “I lost almost everything that I had built over the years. Job. Friends. Reputation. Public goodwill. But I never lost hope. My idealism had let me down,” Faesal wrote in a recent Facebook post.

“But I had faith in myself. That I would undo the mistakes I had made. That life would give me another chance. A part of me is exhausted with the memory of those eight months and wants to erase that legacy. Much of it is already gone. Time will mop off the rest I believe,” he says. “I turn 39 next month. And I'm really excited to start all over again,” he adds, thus hinting toward joining back the service.

National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party are not publicly speaking on Shah Faesal’s return to the services, describing him as a marginal player who unsuccessfully tried to present himself as an alternative to traditional parties.  When Faesal joined politics, he refused to join any regional party in spite of offers from them.  His exit from the political scene is an indication that even mainstream politics in Kashmir is not an easy job and dislodging mainstream political parties having grassroots support needs more than charisma and an IAS title.

“Being a mainstream politician in Kashmir is like dancing on a razor’s edge and Faesal might have realized it,” says a Kashmir-based political activist on condition of anonymity. “There’s a constant threat from militants. Meanwhile, certain sections in J&K are trying to paint them as an ‘occupationist’ or ‘Indian agent’ while others on the mainland are calling them ‘jihadi’ or ‘terrorist’”. The activist adds that the situation would have almost been comical had it not had such deadly consequences.

“Faisal was trying to enter mainstream politics in Kashmir but he realised that it wouldn’t be a cakewalk. He left a well earning job for politics. He was arrested and lodged in jail and people rejoiced over his arrest. In the end, he stopped chasing the mirage,” the activist surmises. 

Another valley-based political activist who has been close with Faesal, however, says that though he believed in Faesal’s inherent capabilities, he soon found that the latter had no spine for a fight. “In spite of having remained close to him (Faesal), I can say that he is a charitable and over-ambitious careerist who tried to promote himself in the political league. But any darker shade would be too dark to paint for him,” the activist says. 

The news of Faesal rejoining the services didn’t create any buzz on Kashmir’s social media this time, perhaps due to his declining relevance to the current politics of the Valley. The situation has moved on and he will be now seen as an extension of the current bureaucratic raj, which of late many mainstream politicians have described as bureaucratic tyranny.

Reports about Faesal being taken back into the services have regularly emerged since January 2020 without culminating in anything. Previously, there were reports that he will be appointed as the director of Sheri Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Srinagar. And then there were reports that he will be posted as an advisor to the LG. But nothing materialized.

Shah Faesal topped IAS in 2010.  In 2018 Faesal got enrolled in the Mid-Career MPA program at Harvard Kennedy School as a Fulbright Scholar. Later on his return to J&K, he quit civil services and launched a political party, Jammu Kashmir People’s Movement. The government, however, didn’t accept his resignation.

On August 5, 2019, the government bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into Union Territories, Jammu, and Kashmir, and Ladakh amid heavy military build-up, communication blockade and arrest of thousands of people including three former chief ministers. It also revoked Article 370, Article 35A. Faesal expressed his resentment against the move at the time. He was arrested in August 2019 after his interview with the BBC in which he said, “The abrogation of Article 370 has finished the mainstream. Constitutionalists are gone. So you can either be a stooge or a separatist now. No shades of grey.”

Faesal was arrested on August 14, 2019 at the Delhi international airport and was put in preventive custody under Section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. He was about to board a flight to the United States to complete his research study at the prestigious Harvard University when he was denied permission to travel abroad. Later in mid-February 2020, the dreaded Public Safety Act (PSA) was imposed on him. The government in its PSA dossier had accused Faesal of  “supporting soft separatism” through social media posts. The dossier also mentioned certain allegedly “provocative statements” made in 2019.

After his release, Faesal in August 2020 stepped down from the chairmanship of his party, JKPM,  saying he is not in a position to continue with political activities and wants to be freed from the responsibilities of the organization. Since then he is trying to get back into the services. Faesal also broke his long silence last year and has been praising the government.

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