About-face Under Pressure?


The problem is Shah Faesal’s anti-people rant to rationalize his decision to quit politics

ON August 9, 1953, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was unceremoniously dismissed as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and subsequently jailed for twenty two years in separate stints. It took over two decades for  Sheikh to describe his entire political struggle as “political wilderness” (‘Siyasi Awaragardi’).

On the contrary, it took Shah Faesal a little less than a year to call it quits. And then bizarrely blame the dispossessed people of Kashmir for his own failings  and contradictions. Those harbouring contempt for their own society and people cannot and do not deserve to serve them.

Academic Ather Zia notes in A Desolation Called Peace: Voice From Kashmir that Sheikh Abdullah was seen as an “unrelenting figure of Kashmiri nationalism”.  Sheikh has been credited for socio-political and economic awakening of the Kashmiri masses at various stages and the one who used Muslim imagery and symbols to mobilize public opinion against the autocratic Dogra regime. It is another matter that he had a fall from grace, first in 1947 and then again in 1975. If  Sheikh was ‘Sher-e-Kashmir’ (Lion of Kashmir), Faesal even failed to prove himself as Cub of Kashmir.

It is rather a tough ask to describe  Faesal in one sentence or in a single paragraph. Like many fellow human beings, Faesal too is a man of many contradictions and flaws. He came as a storm. He opted for an undignified exit. And once the storm is over, it is perhaps time for the people to understand what caused it in the first place, how to survive the future storms and how not to place trust in something that doesn’t belong to them.

Should one refer to Faesal as a former bureaucrat-turned-politician or a former politician-turned-bureaucrat?  Should one depict him as a former ‘role model’ and Delhi’s ‘poster boy’ who failed to achieve what was expected of him? Or, an impulsive wild card who wanted instant coffee-like results without going through the grind? Or, should one portray him as a man who changes his opinions on important matters a la chameleons who change colour with the aim to communicate or regulate their body temperature? Or, is he just a faint-hearted human being who neither appreciates the path of struggle nor is willing to offer any sacrifice? Or, is he someone who wants to taste success while refusing to walk on a thorny pathway?

The issue here is not what he wants to do with his life. He has every right to become a doctor, top the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) competitive examinations, resign as a civil servant, float a new political party and rejoin as a bureaucrat or go back to Harvard to complete his research study. All of that is absolutely fine. No one should have objection with his decisions that concern his personal or professional life.

The problem is his anti-people rant to rationalize his surrender. What is unacceptable is his unfair expectation that the people in the Kashmir Valley should have come out on the roads to protest his temporary detention. Did he not know that not a soul was allowed to move in Kashmir after August 5, 2019? Did he not know that all lines of communication were cut, internet services were shut, and thousands were jailed and many shifted to outside prisons?

What favour has he done to the ‘ungrateful’ people of Kashmir by becoming a doctor, a bureaucrat and a politician or possibly a bureaucrat again? Should the people have faced bullets and pellets for his personal and professional ambitions? Many Kashmiris are rotting in prisons for over two decades and they do not have such unfair expectations from the people, but Faesal has.

Did he consult the people of Kashmir before appearing in his M.B.B.S. or the IAS exams? Did he consult the people of Kashmir before floating a political outfit with someone’s blessings? Are the people to be blamed for not supporting his venture — ‘PDP part-II’ — and not helping him become the ‘youngest Chief Minister’ of Jammu and Kashmir? Are the people responsible for his unsuccessful attempt to cultivate a new political elite in Kashmir?

Faesal is neither a game-changer nor someone people can trust on his word. In cold January of 2019, he created a storm of sorts by announcing his resignation as a civil servant, citing “the unabated killings in Kashmir and the marginalization and invisibalization of around 200 milion Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces (in India)” as a reason.

On August 14, 2019, Faesal told BBC’s Stephen Sackur that “People like me who wanted to find some meaning in electoral politics, who believed that some sort of resolution to this dispute (Kashmir) is still available within the framework of Indian Constitution, I think all those people have been slapped on August 5, 2019. Now there are only two ways to do politics in Kashmir. You will either have to be a stooge or you will have to be a separatist.”

In BBC’s Hardtalk programme, he said that “… I am extremely disappointed the way the international community has responded to this issue (August 5, 2019 move). Kashmir is a nuclear flashpoint. This cannot be left unattended… We just hope that the entire international community will rise up to the occasion and take notice of the human rights violations which are happening in Kashmir due to this unprecedented curfew which has been placed and the unconstitutional act which has been done in the parliament of India in recent times.” He argued that Kashmiris should have the agency to decide their future, adding that “I am ashamed of myself that I am free when all political leaders are jailed.”

In one of Faesal’s articles that he co-authored with another Kashmiri Mehboob Makhdoomi that was published in The Indian Express on 3 January, 2019, the predominant argument was that “at the root of the political problem in Kashmir is the paradox that those who represent the sentiment do not participate in the electoral process and those who participate in the electoral process do not represent the sentiment. Elections have been held regularly since 1996, but there is a feeling that the elected representatives are either a disempowered lot, a group of helpless “daily-wagers” with the Government of India or that the elected representatives are misrepresenting their electorate by not speaking out about the basic Kashmir issue. This needs to change.”

He now describes all his previous statements, co-authored articles and arguments that he made in several interviews as “some of my problematic utterances”.

Some of his admirers are of the opinion that Faesal has his heart at the right place, that his intentions are good, and that he is incorruptible. There were some who had never voted in life but were willing to take a risk to give him a chance to prove his credentials as a new-age politician. Some of them were worried about his galloping pace, though. They thought he was taking too many decisions too fast. This lot wanted him to invest in long-term politics and a mass movement which, according to them, could have then possibly represented the larger political aspiration of Kashmiris.

But he has disappointed his fans and detractors, alike. In short, he has failed to show character under pressure.

  • Disclaimer: Opinion is author’s own

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Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani is a journalist-author who served Deutsche Welle as editor. He is author of Kashmir: Rage and Reason

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