Will contest polls as an independent candidate: Shah Faesal
A former Indian civil servant, who became the first Kashmiri to top the Indian Civil Services examination in 2009, Dr. Shah Faesal resigned from services earlier this month citing unabated killings in Kashmir. Earlier, he defied the J&K government’s gag on socail media for its employees. During 2016 Kashmir uprising, Faesal asked the Delhi and Mumbai-based TV news channels not to use his pictures for drawing a comparison between him and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani. Amidst speculations of his political future, Faesal in an interview with Rising Kashmir Political Reporter, Junaid Kathju, at his Rajbagh office talks at length about his vision and the politcs he wants to do.
You were set to join National Conference after your resignation. What changed?
There has been a lot of speculation about my choice of politics. A lot of people were talking about a lot of parties. I was in service. It was premature for anybody to speculate about my choice of politics. That decision had to be taken only after I resigned. The day I resigned, I categorically made my choice clear that I need to go into the field and look at the sentiment on the ground and then decide which party I will join or the party I won’t join. So, the entire speculation was immature. I am aware about the media reports that stated that I was joining Peoples Democratic Party, Congress and NC. There was a lot of speculation about all the parties.
On what grounds did you resign if you had not decided to join any mainstream party?
I had to join the electoral process. My resignation was not incumbent on the choice of any party. It was not also about immediately getting selected for any office. I wanted to make a statement. That’s all that mattered. I have a lifetime opportunity to make a decision about which party to join. Yes, somewhere in my mind, there was this that I need to go to the Parliament. There was so many ways of doing it. I could have done it as an independent candidate, or join any existing party or make my own party.
Has any particular political party approached you?
I won’t say they approached me. But yes, many people have been showing interest that I should join existing mainstream political parties. At the same time, there has been a lot of feedback that I should not join any existing party.
What feedback are you getting?
People have been exceedingly positive about my decision. I got an opportunity to interact with a lot of youth. I think I have not understood Kashmir in last 10 years as I have in the last 10 days. It has definitely been an intense phase of education for me. Many new realities are coming to fore and I have also seen a lot of expectations coming up. So a certain sense of responsibility is there.
So you are not joining any political party as of now?
There is a complete consensus that I should not join any existing mainstream political party.
What about contesting polls as an independent candidate?
I hope so.
Now, are you going to contest the parliamentary or assembly polls as an independent candidate?
My idea is to go to New Delhi and work with the people there and try to educate and build a consensus around Kashmir crisis. I believe we need to engage democratically with institutions so that we can reach at a solution.
From where will you contest parliamentary polls?
In case I contest, I will contest from north Kashmir’s Baramulla constituency.
Do you think, you would win as an independent candidate?
I might lose. It is not easy to fight election as an independent candidate. In case, I would have fought under a banner of any existing mainstream party, I strongly believe that I would have won by a margin of more than 1 lakh votes. However, I will choose the harder way, keeping in view the sentiments of the people. My politics is for the people, not for myself.
When will you announce your decision?
I am planning to visit my district Kupwara as soon as the weather improves. Only after that I will make the announcement.
Why have you ruled out the Hurriyat option?
I haven’t ruled out the Hurriyat option. I have said that I am into electoral politics. Hurriyat requires mental perseverance and motivation. Hurriyat’s struggle is of a different sort. More so, you don’t get a space to do your politics being in their camp. You have to go to the jail. There will be curbs on the freedom of expression. So it isn’t an easy path to choose. I admit, I am choosing an easy path.
What will Faesal do that has not been tried already? People fought elections in 1987 but what happened. What new will you bring to the table?
My point is we are running out of options. One way of doing things is that we just forget about everything and wait for the doomsday. But I am not somebody to wait for the doomsday. I believe there is always scope for improvement. People have done things in the past. Maybe we can do the same things differently. We can bring new ideas. We can re-imagine the existing situation. It’s also about adding new voices to the system. If existing voices fall short of being heard, it’s always good to add more voices, and I am just one of those voices. There can be more voices in the coming future.
Do you believe you will have a calkwalk?
We have to keep trying. We have to motivate New Delhi to give us those concessions. Wars cannot be fought forever. New Delhi has to engage people of Kashmir and talk to them, negotiate the problem, and finally reach to a solution. This cannot go on forever.
You have talked about intolerance in India. Do you have concerns only with the present dispensation at New Delhi?
I am particularly worried about the recent escalation in killings. We have seen a certain kind of dialogue process happening earlier. We have also seen a thaw in relationships during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure. How far and how deep was that thaw is a different question. There was warming up of the relationship. In last four years, there has been no outreach from the Centre toward Kashmir and to pacify the anger of the youth. I do believe that the party that holds power at the Centre matters for Kashmir. My anger could possibly be as well directed toward that particular party.
If Congress comes to power at New Delhi, do you think their government will be any different from that of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government?
I want to have a party at the Centre that understands Kashmir situation. The party at the Centre that tries to abrogate Article 35-A or Article 370 is doing a disservice to the nation. The Centre should not provoke or insult Kashmiris further by tinkering the constitutional arrangements. I wish any party that comes to power should have a better understanding of Kashmir.
How is Congress any better than BJP when it comes to erosion of the special status of Kashmir?
Whichever party comes to power at the Centre should take a leaf from the past. They saw what the majoritarian government could do here in the last 4 to 5 years. I can only remain optimistic that we can engage with New Delhi in a better manner and maybe hope for better in the coming days. We cannot give up hope.
If people come and join you, will you float your own political party?
I don’t want to divide the mandate. This is the decision I want to take only after getting a sense of the voter dynamics in the field.
Do you think the voice of Shah Faesal is going to change anything?
I am one of the voices. I want more voices to join me. I am sure more voices will be there. For me I am just a voice. I am doing my bit.