Shah Faesal: J&K’s political disrupter?

Shah Faesal: J&K’s political disrupter?

IAS officer Shah Faesal addresses the press after announcing his resignation, in Srinagar, on January 11, 2019, to protest the "unabated" killings in Kashmir. PTI

Dr Shah Faesal was the first Kashmiri to top the Union Public Service Commission examinations in 2009. But he quit the job amid unrest and violence in Kashmir.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq welcomed his decision and wished him to join the Hurriyat Conference, hoping that his outrage over killings will guide his choice of electoral politics. Omar Abdullah also tweeted: “The bureaucracy’s loss is politics’ gain. Welcome to the fold @shahfaesal”. He was probably luring him to join the National Conference.

But after meeting people, particularly the youth, Shah Faesal finally decided to crave out an independent political space for himself. He will, most probably, either float a new political party or contest the upcoming Assembly or the Parliamentary elections as an independent candidate — Jammu & Kashmir is probably gearing up for a simultaneous Assembly and Parliament elections. Faesal has now started a crowdfunding campaign for “clean politics and corruption-free administration” in the state.

Addressing the youth on Facebook, he wrote: “I imagine a politics where youth can lead the change and take charge of their future; I wish to partner with a new generation of young leaders who can stand up for human rights, environment, free speech and rule of law.” He further aspires to “truthfully represent” the aspirations, culture, fears and dreams of the people of J&K across the world.

Growing comparisons

People are still debating his decision to quit the job and the nature of his political engagements in future. In Kashmir, some people draw his comparisons with Imran Khan and Arvind Kejriwal. Therefore, he was advised not to join the “worn-out” political parties like National Conference, People’s Democratic Party or the Congress but to carve out a niche for himself as an inspiring youth icon.  

But it’s probably politically incorrect to compare Faesal with either Khan or Kejriwal. The political system of J&K is beset with complexities and uncertainties. In Pakistan, Imran Khan is highly popular as a cricket icon who won the 1992 World Cup for his country. He also undertook philanthropic works on a large scale after his retirement from cricket.

Still it took him a lot of time to make some impact on the political turf of Pakistan. He was defeated and humiliated on so many occasions but he didn’t lose hope.

More importantly, his recent political ascension has a lot to do with the civil-military relations in Pakistan. He is now the favourite of the military establishment. His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, allegedly won the 2018 general elections with the help of the army.

The European Union Election Observation team that monitored these elections reported that the other parties like PPP and PML-N were not provided a level playing field during the campaign.

The EU observers highlighted the systematic efforts made to undermine the former ruling party through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates. We can’t ignore all these facts while suggesting a way out for Faesal.  

Another parallel of Faesal is drawn with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Kejriwal is the product of a pan-India anti-corruption movement. Delhi is a cosmopolitan city where people celebrate democracy and the idea of India. There’s a vibrant and participant political culture. More importantly, there’s no political conflict which can affect people’s political behaviour.

Faesal intends to be a political disrupter in J&K. But is the state ready for a major disruption? Sajad Lone was a potential disrupter. But he was soon co-opted by the system.

We must not lose sight of the ground level electoral politics in Kashmir. The primary agents of change in any society are its youth. But the youth of Kashmir are presently less inclined towards electoral politics. Each political party has a committed voter base who turn out to vote in spite of threats and boycott calls. Are these voters ready to accommodate Faesal when other politicians like Omar, Mehbooba and Sajad are also in the fray?

Although Faesal would like to target the ‘disinterested’ youth, it requires much more than his personal efforts. A ‘Youth Charter’ that can bring Kashmiri youth into the mainstream requires cooperation at a much higher level.   

(The writer teaches Political Science at GDC for Women, Anantnag, J&K)