A year ago, when the IAS topper-turned-politician Shah Faesal launched his J&K Peoples Movement in Srinagar, National Conference dismissed it as PDP redux 20 years later. One of the NC leaders said: “Exactly 20 years back in 1999 a party was founded to counter National Conference after it tabled the autonomy report in the assembly and another attempt on the same pattern is being made today.” The reference was obviously to the People's Democratic Party which was formed in 1999 as an alternative to the NC.
The NC leadership would always allege the PDP was the creation of New Delhi and intelligence agencies as it was formed after the J&K Assembly passed the autonomy resolution, seeking restoration of 1953 position to Jammu and Kashmir. And like PDP, Faesal remained indifferent to the accusations of 'New Delhi’s man' and started his political path promising corruption-free politics with focus on development. He had generated a lot of curiosity among the younger generation and he was already being hailed as a youth icon.
One year down the line, mainstream politics has changed in Jammu and Kashmir. Political parties which were competing with each other have come together seeking release of political leaders like PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and her party's senior leader Naeem Akhtar, Shah Faesal, Peoples Conference leader Sajad Lone, NC leader Ali Mohammad Sagar and others. “It’s callous & cruel to continue to detain @MehboobaMufti & others at a time like this. There was never much justification to detain everyone in the 1st place & none at all to keep them detained as the country enters a 3 week lockdown,” tweeted former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah after his release from seven month long detention.
“Mainstream politics after abrogation of Article 370 and downgrading of J&K into two Union Territories has changed for ever. For the past 70 years of our existence, of our memory, our politics was based on the constitution and its guarantees. Now we know where we stand. That is why the release of all political leaders is necessary,” says a mainstream politician who didn't want to be named. “August 5, 2019 was political demonetization for us. We have lost our value. We are like discarded bank notes. Shah Faesal was a rising star of Kashmir politics then. But now the reality is he is in jail and his party’s politics like other parties is to get him out of jail," he adds.
For all the 'Delhi's Man' talk, Shah 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 and since then he continues to be in preventive detention at the MLA Hostel Srinagar. “The government must release Shah Faesal and other political prisoners held up in Jammu and Kashmir after abrogation of Article 370,” says the J&K Peoples Movement president Syed Iqbal Tahir. Ironically, the government in its PSA dossier accused the former IAS officer of “supporting soft separatism” through social media posts. The dossier also mentions his alleged “provocative statements” made last year.
“As far as I know joining politics was not Shah Faesal's mind until 2016. He was much contented with his civil services job till then. When he topped the IAS in 2010, he became an inspiration for the youth. We had just one boy joining IAS from Kashmir in fifteen years preceding his selection. His selection marked an epoch. More and more Kashmir boys joined the service after his selection. He was founder trustee and an active member of an initiative actually helping youngsters to join the bureaucracy, he used to regularly classes at this initiative,” says a close friend of Faesal.
His realisation that development and politics of this state are antithetical only got reinforced while he was in service and he finally made up his mind to join the politics, say people close to him. In between, Faesal joined a Fulbright Fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School in June 2018. He did consider all possible political paths but eventually chose electoral politics. "That is why in early 2019 he launched his political party. Now I think it was really a sad decision,” says his friend.
The timing may have been completely off. Things started moving too quickly in Kashmir within the year Faesal launched his party and he never got a chance to prove his political mettle. After his arrest in August 2019, Shah Faesal challenged his detention in Delhi High Court but he soon withdrew it. Before the withdrawal of petition, the high court had said, "We are disposing of this petition, but Faesal's lawyer is free to revert to the court for any further legal help.” Faesal has not sought any so far.
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