Shah Faesal has finally launched a political party and named it Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Movement (JKPM). Interestingly, the party has been joined by the former JNU students’ leader Shehla Rashid. In his speech at the party’s maiden rally in Srinagar Faesal made all the right noises but at the same time he was guarded in his utterances. He didn’t say anything that could have triggered a controversy. So, on Kashmir issue he said his party didn’t have a role in terms of a political resolution but would only work as a facilitator for a solution. So, in effect, Faesal has reduced his party’s role to little more than a purveyor of sadak, paani and bijli should it ever come to power.
But this apparent abdication of his role as a leader who will pursue Kashmir resolution will in no way lessen the need to do so. Faesal’s biggest challenge will remain negotiating the entrenched political binary of the state: a pro-establishment political system and a separatist political and militant struggle that has left tens of thousands dead over the past three decades. This has never been easy and those who have tried it have eventually fallen between two stools.
However, it is still early days for Faesal and his equally well-known colleague Shehla Rashid. For now, Faesal is busy charting the contours of his politics. He has been holding consultations online and offline, urging youth to come out of the social media and meet him. He has promised to hew his politics closer to their aspirations.
He is making some things clear though. He sees himself both as the man of the system and a disrupter. He respects the space of the separatists but won’t join them as he doesn’t have “the mental strength to go to jail”. He won’t join the established mainstream political parties either but will be a part of the same political setup.
By Kashmiri standards, it has been a very unconventional foray into the state’s public space. Faesal has set the people talking. He is pushing taboo notions like Kashmir’s right to self determination and the human rights situation into public discourse – albeit, he has now chosen to be more circumspect with whatever he says. He is urging people in the state and the country to rethink their assumptions about the issues facing the state and to re-imagine its future.
But then Faesal is up against overarching odds: Over the past seventy years, Kashmir has been a graveyard of reputations of its leaders right from legendary Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah through Mufti Sayeed to Farooq Abdullah. And it has even made short work of many an ambitious or idealistic entrants, consumed them, hung them out to dry. Faesal’s humongous challenge to make his presence felt is just beginning. In the days and weeks ahead his politics will unfold and people will be able to form a firmer opinion about the People’s Movement and its agenda. Until then we can’t help but keep our fingers crossed.