Shah Faesal: Player or Pawn?
By Mohd Azhardin Ganayee
Shah Faesal has finally launched a new political project in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. There is a question which rings in the mind of most observers and merits a deep analysis. That question put succinctly is this; Is it Faesal’s personal idea, conviction and effort or is it a part of some bigger design. To put it another way; Is Shah Faesal a player or just a pawn here?
It is claimed by Faesal that he had a change of mind about his profession as well as ideology and as a result has embarked on a journey whereby he has sacrificed his comfortable position of power in order to bring a fundamental and positive change in the stinking drudge of what is called as mainstream politics in Kashmir. He is seeking, in his own words to use whatever democratic space is available, to bat for the political rights of Kashmiris.
No doubt the change that he is promising is badly needed. But does he really intend to achieve it? Is it really possible to achieve it in the current scenario, upended as we are, by numerous structural constraints of a conflict zone? And even if he does intend to and say it is also possible to achieve that change; the question that needs an answer is: At what cost?
There are no easy answers to these questions but there are certain clues and scenarios to ponder upon.
Not long back was Faesal ideologically an integrationist who saw the future of his people safe only with India. He derided the resistance movement in Kashmir as nihilistic, contradictory, counterproductive and to begin with preposterous. Did he really have a change of heart and mind on that years old ideological position, strengthened, as it was, by the unfortunate loss of his father to the vagaries of the separatist insurgency. Did a few rebukes and run-ins with the powers of the day and discussions and readings at Harvard, change his convictions so deeply? Nobody can know for sure. However, what is worrying is this: if he is so fickle he may as well revert again to his old ideological position. What if he becomes what he seeks to become; the voice of his people who represents their political as well as governance-related aspirations; and then reverts to his long-held and now abandoned integrationist stance. Sheikh Abdullah resurrected! that is not far-fetched.
Politics in Kashmir is not an easy enterprise unless of course there are seen and unseen powers backing you. There are many known unknowns and even unknown unknowns which plague a conflict zone like Kashmir. In his own words, Shah Faesal does not have the “strength of character” to go through what people of Hurriyat go through. Does he then have it to wade into troubled waters of Kashmir Politics at tremendous personal risk? Shah Faesal’s security was increased manifold overnight when he resigned. Later when the security of many political leaders and activists was withdrawn, his name also appeared in the list but then in his case, it was never withdrawn. What does all this mean?
Let us suppose Faesal is true in his intentions and we have little reason to think he is not. What were his options then? Hurriyat and NC/PDP were ruled out for different reasons. Engineer Rashid type of politics was an option. Faesal could also have contested as an independent candidate and then used his celebrity status and the position as an MP to bring focus on the fundamental political issue of Kashmir.
Instead, Faesal has formed a new political party which is clearly aiming, as is evident from his newly released manifesto, to supplant the existing mainstream political parties. He has clearly stated that he is inspired by likes of Mamta Banerjee and if destiny allows him, would like to emulate them. The aim then is clear; it is to bring a “political revolution” which takes Faesal to the Chief Minister’s chair where he will then try to stand up to Centre like some other chief ministers in other states have done. Thus he will embody and placate the political aspirations of his people in a manner no other CM, except Sheikh Abdullah, has been able to do.
That is the simplified form of what he said to Barkha Dutt in an interview; “restoration of political rights of Kashmiris by the Indian Parliament”.
Now it is time to come to the second question which was whether the aim is larger good or personal or some combination of two. While it’s impossible to discern the exact intentions of a person; what can be done is to analyze the import of the upcoming “political revolution” supposing that it succeeds. It will possibly enable Kashmiris to have a dignified relationship with India under constitutional guarantees like other states of the union have; perhaps along with protection of provisions like 35A and 370. Many people think that it is the best Kashmiris can hope in the current situation. The jury is open on whether it is the best way forward but if it indeed is the best way then what is the need of all this theatre. Instead, if the resistance leadership was to compromise with the wishes of Delhi Darbar, they will certainly get better terms for an outright surrender than by what would essentially be a surrender by other means.
The author is a Research Scholar at IIT MADRAS