This Time We Are Fighting an Existential Battle: Shah Faesal

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The deployment of the additional 10,000 troops and a slew of unusual official orders seeking to strengthen security and surveillance in Kashmir have triggered panic and anxiety among people. The Kashmir Valley has been aswirl with rumours that the centre is  getting ready to do away with the Articles 370 and 35A. The extraordinary situation has forced the major political parties other than the BJP to close ranks and jointly fight the anticipated onslaught on the J&K’s special status.

Kashmir Observer correspondent Auqib Javeed caught up with the bureaucrat-turned politician Shah Faesal for his opinion on the current crisis.

Here are the excerpts 

Why is their silence in mainstream camp about the anticipated moves by the centre to revoke Article 35A? Why no rally, not even a press conference to give voice to the fears in Kashmir? 

I don’t think there is any silence; everybody is speaking, at least, our party People’s United Front, is constantly agitating that this air of uncertainty needs to be cleared. The only issue this time is that people aren’t sure what the mobilisation is about, once it’s clear that mobilisation is about Article 35A, you will see the storm brewing up in the entire state.

The dominant opinion among people is that the mainstream camp should unite. Why this is not happening?

I think our party and Er. Rashid Sahab is the first person who gave a call for unity to all political parties of the state. Yesterday I also spoke and endorsed his stance that all political parties in the state should come forward and unite and come on the same table. In fact, we were the people who proposed an all party meeting to discussing this current issue.

Isn’t leadership missing in Kashmir at a time when Kashmir needs it most? Nobody is stepping up to the challenge.

I agree that the political parties are speaking in multiple voices and every party is trying to grind its own axe. Nobody is really serious about the crisis that is just ahead of us.

What do you think is going to happen? Do you think J&K’s constitutional status can be preserved? What are the options with people of J&K?

Our belief is that it’s completely illegal to tinker with our special status. We believe once the Constitutional Assembly of the state got dissolved in 1957, the roads to any sort of constitutional adventurism vis-vis these two articles have already been closed.

The options for the people is that just in case the BJP resorts to any sort of illegalities and tries to tinker with the special status, I think then a strong political assertion will have to be made from the side of people of Jammu and Kashmir and at the same time we should go for the judicial remedy.

What steps will your party take if speculations about Article 35A turn out to be true?

Firstly, we believe that the Article 35A is not going to be scrapped by anyone because it’s impossible to do so. And if this happens, it will destroy the relationship between the centre and the state. But if the central government takes such an initiative, there will be a huge people’s movement against that initiative.

What, in your view, is the path ahead for the political formations in Kashmir given the fact that BJP enjoys power in Delhi. Is engagement with BJP inevitable?

See, we are saying that BJP government is at the centre and we have to convince them that opposing BJP and their ideology doesn’t mean being anti-national. They have their own politics to do and they should give space to other political parties to do their politics and follow democratic principles.

There is a viewpoint that New Delhi is helping to bring new leadership in Kashmir and the veiled reference is towards you and Er Rasheed. How do you dispel such speculations and fears?

There have always been such rumors in history that whenever any new political party and new institutions come up, it is suspected.  You will recall when Indian National Congress became, many people said it’s the creation of the British and they made it because they want to have a safety valve.

And when National Conference came up, it was said that it’s communists that have made it here to destroy the Muslim unity. When PDP came up people said it’s the creation of Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to counter NC. Now the new political parties are coming up, these parties are the institutions. If new universities can come up in a society then new political parties can also come up which provide new political idea to promote change. We are completely an organic front which has emerged out of a political vacuum in the state. We have nothing to do with both sides of the state.

As the Assembly elections are approaching, how are you facing your first electoral battle?

Ours is the idea of  change. We are saying that in the last 70 years whatever the miseries the people of the state have seen that is because of these two dynastic parties. They have developed a sort of politics where public interest is the last priority. We are saying that we are here for a change and it comes with the idea of sacrifices. We have left something in our lives to come into politics and want to work transparently  to give good governance to people. At the same time our effort will be to facilitate the resolution of Kashmir dispute.

Can we see a grand alliance in the coming elections to counter BJP?

You never know what is going to happen; right now we have promoted an idea of coming together for protecting the special status of the state. I don’t know what is going to happen in the coming days.

Modi led government seems to be in no mood for dialogue. Do you see any chances of the dialogue process?

I think if you go by what transpired during a conversation between Donald Trump and Imran Khan, last week. It has generated some sort of hope that even if something is not being said but maybe behind the doors, something is really happening. We should not give-up the hope and we believe dialogue is the only way to resolve the issue. Even if there is a sense of coldness and freeze at the moment, maybe some sort of warming up might come in the coming days.

Do you think Modi led government has used agencies like National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) for their personal gains?

It has always been like that.  Ruling parties at the centre have tried to influence the functioning of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), NIA and other agencies. At this time we have seen that there have been serious complaints that these agencies are being misused to intimidate political opposition and we hope the government will soon realize that these institutions need to be protected and given autonomy.

How can you work differently when the system around you is choked and hell-bent on silencing voices that speak for Kashmir and Kashmiris?

I think this is where the opportunities arise. When the night is the darkest and that is the time when the dawn is nearby. For political leaders, it’s important that they give hope to nations. When there is no hope, which is why we are here to struggle and to take people out of this darkness.

Keeping your public outreach in view, you are investing more time on mobilizing youngsters – an immediate victim of the conflict. How do you expect change when the political system has deceived them time and again.

We haven’t deceived them; we have left whatever was with us. We have given sacrifices for building new politics in the state. I think if the youth are joining us it is because they have recognized and acknowledged that there is a new idea and the people with clean hands are at the helm.

How can you expect a solution within the ambit of the Indian Constitution when main stakeholders do not accept the Indian Constitution?

At this time the issue is not about resolving the conflict. This time we are fighting an existential battle. Our party has a three-point strategy 1)  lets’ protect what is with us 2) Let’s retrieve what has been snatched from us 3). Let us try to recover what is our right.

So the first stage of this resolution is that let’s try to do something which is with us and its Article 35A, and 370. These things are being taken away so let’s protect them first. Larger issues can be discussed latter.

Your politics isn’t still clear enough to people?

See, we are living in a society which is extremely confused because what happens in conflict-ridden society is that there is no clarity of purpose. We don’t know where to go, who to follow and how to follow. So at this time, we are trying to create a narrative of hope, a narrative of positivity. We have lost enough, let’s come together now.

See people have made mistakes in the past but we aren’t the people to be blamed what others have done in the past. We are saying if wrong things have happened in the past, it is time we offer voices of change and opportunity to us. Let people try us, let them give us a chance at least and then see may be we are able to do something.

Do you think your idea of resolving Kashmir will get support from the people? 

We believe that there is no choice. This conflict can’t go on forever. Thousands of people have already died in the last 30 years of conflict. Thousands of homes got destroyed. This thing can’t continue forever. I think all the stakeholders will have to come together on some common ground to ensure that there is a resolution.

Media in Kashmir is under tremendous pressure. Many editors have been summoned by the NIA. How do you see it?

We are extremely upset about how some of the newspapers have been deprived of government advertisements and how some editors have been questioned by NIA in recent times. We hope that this intimidation will stop.


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