Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily
Shah Faesal is an independent politician and former bureaucrat from Jammu and Kashmir. In 2009, he became the first Kashmiri to have attained the first position in the Indian Civil Services Examination. He resigned from the Indian bureaucracy in 2019, citing “unabated killings” in Kashmir (among other things) as the reason. In an exclusive interview with Caravan Daily, Shah Faesal spoke on the prevalent situation in Jammu and Kashmir as there are speculations, rumours, and uncertainties in the state. Excerpts from the interview:
Currently, there is a lot of uncertainty, speculations, and panic in Kashmir as the Center has mobilized additional companies of the paramilitary troops. Can you give us a sense of your assessment of the situation?
My experience as a part of the administration tells me that as we have seen elections earlier, we have also seen extraordinary law and order situation, and curfews. But this sudden mobilization of forces without informing the people, I think, is something which is happening for the first time. We have not seen this sense of panic before when elections have taken place. The government should come clear on what is happening here.
Do you think, in any way, that it is related to the issue of abrogation of Articles 35-A and 370?
As of now, if you go by the ongoing debate, it is all about article 35-A and Article 370 and delimitation. People are trying to find a natural connection between the debate and deployment. But what appears from the language of the orders is that something extraordinary is about to happen. And the associated rumour mongering has further exacerbated the panic in Kashmir this time.
What is the significance of Articles 370 and 35-A vis a vis the Kashmir issue?
If you look at how the first Prime Minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru approached this problem, or how Gulzari Lal Nanda, the then Home Minister used to talk on the floor of the Parliament – these articles are nothing but a shell or maybe a tunnel, or just a shifting partition. So in essence, although these articles have already been diluted to an extent where they do not have any meaning, if integration had to happen by the erosion of these articles, it would have already happened. It doesn’t make much sense in abrogating or removing these articles because it’s not about constitutional arrangements anymore. It’s about winning the hearts and minds. Unless you win over the sentiment of the people, integration cannot happen.
At this time, considering how the Centre is adamant to abrogate this special status, do you think they will sit across the table with you or someone else and work on giving political concessions to Kashmir?
We do not have many expectations from the right-wing. But we believe that there are still good advisors in the government who will be advising the Prime Minister about the issues that need to be dealt with very sensitively. But ultimately, in the long run, it will essentially be dialogue and consultation only through which any solution can be found out.
You joined the politics generating a lot of hope vis a vis the Kashmir issue. What makes you think that New Delhi will give up its intransigence on Kashmir?
Times have changed, basically. Every new age begins with its own new solutions, giving rise to new problems with that. India has suffered a lot, and so has Pakistan. Kashmir has suffered the most. We have on our hands one hundred and twenty thousand people who have lost their lives in the last 30 years of conflict. So we believe that it cannot go on forever, and I think that this belief lies in the leadership of both Indian and Pakistan – that the status quo is not tenable anymore. You are two nuclear neighbours looking at each other. The geopolitics of South Asia is also changing, and world politics is also changing. I think all these influences together might definitely push or maybe nudge these two nations to work out a solution for the problem.
You founded your own party, The Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement and now you have joined hands with Engineer Sheikh Rashid [former independent lawmaker from Kupwara]. What attracted you to him?
I think it was Engineer Rashid’s story of struggle and how he had developed his politics in the last 15 years. He has been saying many things which I don’t necessarily agree with. But he has a conviction…he talks about Kashmir with a certain conviction. He is a simple man, he believes in simple living, he has been focusing on good governance also. And I think we did find some sort of common ground with Engineer Rashid.
Is that conviction and that character missing among other politicians or political formations?
I think it is. I think most other political formations are dynasty politicians who have a sense of entitlement with the offices. They believe that their parents and grandparents passed on these offices to them. So they have an actual right to being Chief Minister and the ministers in the state. I think Engineer Rashid comes from a very humble background. He developed his own politics and emerged as a new voice in Kashmir. That is what we like, basically.
Of late, we have seen you interacting with common people on the ground. What have these conversations been like?
These conversations have been tremendously educative. People from across the state have been telling me about issues, about their aspirations, dreams, and difficulties that they have been facing vis a vis interaction with the government.
Many politicians raised fingers at you when you came up with your political party including Omar Abdullah, former chief minister, and national conference leader, questioning, why is it that these political parties are launched only in Kashmir and not from Jammu or Ladakh?
It depends. Kashmir has a very vibrant society and political parties are like institutions. They’re like universities, they’re like colleges. There should not be any problem in opening more political parties. No political party has a monopoly or an entitlement over the votes of the people. We go to the people with our agenda, with certain things on our platter. And if people agree with our ideas, then they join us. If they don’t, then political parties do not take off. Let’s leave it to the people. I think other political parties should not refuse giving space to their rivals just because they feel threatened.
What according to you is the motive behind the recent spike in NIA raids against politicians and business people?
We see it as a part of the hardline policy of the government, which believes that maybe by using the stick against dissent here in Kashmir, maybe they’ll be able to contain the situation. I think there’s definitely a relationship between the policy and the recent raids.
Many experts are of the opinion that Kashmiri political parties seem to have hit a dead end. They say that even Delhi does not take them seriously. Do Kashmir’s politicians feel subdued in the current climate?
Delhi is making a huge mistake by discrediting the political mainstream here because we believe that finally, it’s the process of engagement and democratic method that’s going to yield some solutions. We have seen militancy for the last 30 years, and how not much has come out of it. So we believe that it will finally be the engagement, dialogue, and negotiation which will yield something and if Delhi is hell-bent on discrediting the mainstream and denying space for elections, then all we can say is that this place is doomed. And we are going to see very tough times ahead.
Violence against Muslims in mainland India is on the rise, and lynching is almost a daily affair now. Do Kashmiris feel strongly about issues of Muslims from the mainland?
Truth be told, Kashmiris have never found political solidarity with Muslims from other parts of the country because we believe Kashmiri Muslims are a separate demographic and political entity, and vice versa in case of Indian Muslims too. Both have totally different histories, different dreams, and totally different ideas of the future. So it’s not surprising that even for lynching, Kashmiris do not react much because, for the last 30 years, Kashmiris have been busy in their own troubles. They have been busy dousing the fires in their own backyard; it may not be possible for them to worry about what’s happening across the tunnel. But then yes, we have still seen some voices from Kashmiris speaking up for the cause of the larger Indian Muslims, and we do feel for them.