A New Aam Aadmi: Will Shah Faesal Prove to Be Kashmir’s Arvind Kejriwal?

Muhammad Raafi | Jan 21, 2019 | 7 min read

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Will Shah Faesal stand for Kashmir’s Aam Aadmi?

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Will Shah Faesal change face of state politics like his role model?


Muhammad Raafi


Srinagar: A movement against corruption that led to founding of the Aam Aadmi Party gave Indians hopes of a revival of politics as it exists and brought a new vertical of power in Delhi, away from the major parties that had been guiding the democratic discourse in the country. At the centre of this political reform was Arvind Kejriwal, a former Indian Revenue Services (IRS) officer who quit his job to campaign against corruption, something he had been doing as part of his work with Parivartan and Kabir---two NGOs he founded with Manish Sisodia, the present deputy chief minister of Delhi.


Six years after the advent of AAP, another dissenting bureaucrat is looking towards reforming politics, as it is in his home state. Shah Faesal, Jammu & Kashmir’s first topper of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), announced his plunge into politics after resigning from the services reasoning “unabated Kashmir killings” and “marginalisation” of Indian Muslims. Soon after, Faesal revealed that he draws inspiration from the style of politics practiced by Delhi CM Kejriwal and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.


While Kejriwal concluded a long run of activism and social engineering into AAP that got its first chance at power in 2013, Faesal’s political innings are yet to open. So far, he hasn’t announced allegiance to any existing political group in the state, and has rather asked people’s opinions on how should he go about charting his course from here.


Faesal, before announcing his entry into politics, put up a heartfelt post on Facebook. Speaking directly to Kashmiri citizens, he acknowledged that they are “angry” and “heartbroken” over the region’s political situation. Openly stating that he is “against blind-faith in individuals and uncritical followership”, Faesal has earnestly asked Kashmiris to give him “six months” of time and trust.


The parallels between Kejriwal and Faesal


Taking a leaf out of Kejriwal’s book, Faesal decided to seek public opinion on his decision of joining politics. “I would like to go back to the people, seek their views and then join the mainstream politics. I have invited all the stakeholders including youngsters and would take their viewpoints and subsequently take a decision,” Faesal said during an interview. Kejriwal, in 2015, had sought opinion of the voters over appointment of new acting Chief Secretary of Delhi through social media. The Delhi CM had accused senior bureaucrat Shakuntala Gamlin of “being close” to power companies, and had asked if an officer close to corporates should be given a top bureaucratic post in the Delhi government.


At a time when political parties raise religious issues to secure their vote banks, Kejriwal galvanized the youth in the name of change and saw them as his party’s biggest vote bank. Faesal too relies on young Kashmiris and has appealed to them to come forward and suggest what the state politics needs.


Kejriwal quit his job as a mechanical engineer in 1992 to prepare for the Civil Services Exam and joined Indian Revenue Services in 1995 as assistant commissioner, Income Tax. He studied engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. However, his tenure with the IRS came to an abrupt end when in 2005 he resigned from the post, and had to shell out more than Rs 9 lakh as dues after a long standing dispute with the Indian government over his terms of resignation.


Faesal is an MBBS graduate from Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Srinagar, and served as Director, School Education, J&K before his resignation from the IAS.


The similarity between Faesal and his inspiration lies in the fact that like the AAP founder did it for Delhi, he too, wants to provide Kashmir with an alternative political representation, away from established political fronts that have led the discourse.


The legitimacy of electoral politics in Kashmir has been under the scanner, with successive governments having failed to complete their six-year terms. Omar Abdullah has been the only chief minister who could complete his term (2009-2015) after his father Farooq Abdullah (1996-2002). Faesal is critical of the Indian government and holds it accountable for the current political and social turmoil Kashmir is in. He opines, “A near-total boycott of panchayat and urban local body elections was a chilling reminder of a diminishing democratic space.”


Kejriwal, too, in 2012, talked about the Gandhian principle of ‘Swaraj’ -- the concept of people’s rule -- and promised to focus on issues that affect common man, including “social inequality, health, education, price rise...”. The primary reason behind joining politics, he says, was to “throw out” India’s corrupt political system.


Although Faesal speaks on similar terms as Kejriwal did about corruption, transparency and sincere governance, the political landscape of Kashmir, however, is a stark contrast to the rest of India.


Faesal’s political game a deciding factor


Post 2016, conducting elections in Kashmir has been a challenge for the Indian government. Rising support for the militants among youth in the state has made it difficult to draw people out to vote and participate in democracy. In a region where people see army and the State as alien, Faesal’s political path is ridden with challenges.


Political commentators believe that the socio-political context in which Kejriwal came to power in Delhi is completely different from the one in which Shah Faesal aims to establish himself.


“What makes it difficult for Faesal to connect with the masses especially with the youth is the fact that political parties remain discredited in the public eye and more people now see militant solution to the Kashmir conflict. Whether he makes an impact in the political landscape of the state remains to be seen, but his decision to join politics from an active bureaucrat does set a precedence of sorts,” Haris Zargar, a journalist who covered Kashmir politics for about a decade, opined.


Gowhar Geelani, a senior political analyst and journalist, says Faesal has a fair amount of following among the youth in restive Jammu and Kashmir and also in parts of mainland India. “But Kashmir’s political turf is a graveyard of many a reputation. That said, if he brings honesty and represents the dominant political aspiration and sentiment on the ground in the Legislative Assembly or Indian Parliament he could attract non-voters and votaries of boycott politics in his favour. Whether he could be Imran or Kejriwal of Kashmir will be determined by the content of his narrative and conduct of him as a politician. For that he has to walk the talk.”


Shah Abbas, a journalist covering Kashmir for last two decades, says that if Faesal wants his footprints to be followed, he needs to talk about the Kashmir dispute freely without affiliating himself with the separatist camp. This only can address the sentiments and the political problem faced by the masses.


It may yet be early to judge Faesal in comparison with Kejriwal, but his success will depend on whether he joins an existing political party or chooses to remain independent.


Delhi goes to election again in 2020 and surveys so far have put Kejriwal at the forefront in race for next probable CM despite his party suffering several internal blows with confidante leaders walking out over the last five years. If Faesal gets Kashmiris to talk of what they seek from Indian democracy at this moment, and manages to politicise their sentiments, he may be able to speak truth to power and emerge as a leader than the AAP chief.


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