Shah Faesal , the 2009 Indian Administrative Service (IAS) topper, who took the country by storm after quitting his job over varied issues concerning Jammu and Kashmir and Indian Muslims spoke to Yusuf Jameel on the urgency of his decision and his future plans.
Many people say that you quitting the IAS has more to do with your political and personal ambitions than being discontented with your job?
This is a very easy way of dismissing the initiative that people take. In a conflict zone it is even harder to accept that someone is doing something good for the people. This is part of the larger trust deficit that we have here in Kashmir. I see it more as part of that conflict-related paranoia which makes us believe that no one can do something which is honest, credible and people oriented… nobody is doing something for the larger good of the society which can be trusted.
What was wrong with your job?
Nothing was wrong with my job. I see the next step of my life as an extension of the work that I was doing. I was operating in a space where I was working very closely with politicians. Now I’m working within a space where I work as a politician. I don’t see any drastic change in the way things were and are going to be there for me.
What can you do by joining politics that you thought you may not be able to do as an IAS officer?
This service comes with a certain set of conduct rules. It comes with a certain set of mandated functions — for example, you are expected to deal with development issues only. When it comes to a conflict zone and a place like Kashmir, we know that there are larger political challenges and there is a larger political environment in which development happens.
It is not possible for us to optimise economic development unless you address the political environment. So I believe in Kashmir it is very important for us to first do something about peace and then expect the state to reap the dividends of development. That’s why I think it is more important to work as a sincere politician.
Governor Satya Pal Malik had also said that you could serve the people in a better way if you decided to continue in service. He also offered you a posting of your choice. Did he speak to you personally on this issue?
(Laughs) He didn’t, but this is not about postings. I’ve got some of the best posts in my career so far. It is also not about what I can do as a politician that I couldn’t do in IAS. I’m responding to a certain situation that has developed in Jammu and Kashmir. While staying there for the last 10 years I have realised that unless you do something about enforcement of the political rights of the people, you will not be able to create an environment in which development can happen or you can work as a civil servant effectively. So it was not about postings and there was no question of going back. It was a very considered decision that I took to quit service.
Months before you announced the decision to seek premature retirement from the service, media was abuzz with reports that you are joining the National Conference (NC) to contest Lok Sabha elections from your home constituency of Baramulla. What made you to change your mind later?
I think there has been a lot of speculation about the party that I was planning to join. The decision had to be taken after I had actually resigned from the service. Yes, one thing happened — that I did get a lot of feedback from youngsters mainly, and I think they pointed out one thing — that I should not join any existing mainstream party. I think this is how, at the most, feedback from the people facilitated the decision that I should chart my individual political journey rather than joining any existing political party.
What are you actually planning to do now?
I had never thought that I would get the kind of response that I actually got from across the state. I was restricting myself to just one parliamentary constituency from where I wanted to contest so that I could represent Kashmir in the rest of the country and abroad. But the kind of response generated in almost all the areas and regions of the state has actually turned out to be some sort of a public movement. Thousands of people are actually coming and meeting me and sharing their ideas and telling me that let us do something together for restoring the political rights of the people of the state, do something about the political instability in the state and also at the same time do something about governance, corruption, problems with public institutions and a lot of other issues. I’m in consultation with the people of the state on which way it can possibly lead us to.
Is it true that some separatist leaders had also approached you and desired that you should instead join their camp?
It is not true. I think most of the respectable people of Kashmir have been showing their graciousness and their warmth towards me, appreciating me quitting the service and joining the political space. So I think that kind of acknowledgement and encouragement has been, maybe, misunderstood.
So nobody from the separatist camp spoke to you?
If they do?
I think I have been clear from day one that joining separatism is not some sort of a job. It’s not an ordinary engagement. It needs a lot of struggle. You have to face a lot of hardships when you join that space, and somebody who has been in the system has a certain kind of role cut out for him within electoral politics. So I have already made that decision that I will be choosing an easy path.
Kashmir is also known as a “graveyard of many political reputations”. Are you apprehensive of ignominy?
Absolutely not, because I have chosen my path and I know the consequences. I know there are different ways of doing things. I could have joined an existing political party and made it big instantly in the next elections only. I have many options available in my life. I want to do something for the people.
Elections do not matter. Elections will keep happening. I may get elected. I may even lose. But I think the kind of response that I have already generated by getting into conversations with the constituency of youngsters who don’t believe in electoral politics or trust the institutions is the biggest success for me. Winning or losing an election is immaterial to me.
Do you consider Kashmir as a dispute and, if yes, how to resolve it?
I believe Kashmir obviously is a dispute and the two countries — India and Pakistan — have been talking about it for so many years. Whether I say it is a dispute or not doesn’t matter much because conversation has been happening for so many years and I believe that the two nuclear powers actually need to sit together and settle the issue as per the aspirations of the people. They should ensure that, at least, peace prevails in South Asia. I think Kashmir can be settled only by these two important stakeholders talking to each other.
Educated Kashmiri Muslim youth and those from affluent families are increasingly turning to the gun. How do you see it?
I see it as a consequence of the restricted political space in the Valley.
People here don’t find the avenues of expression of their political consciousness or the alternative ways of doing that. I think this latest phase of militancy is a result of the kind of siege mentality that we have seen developing in Kashmir for so many years.
I think it will be possible to deescalate tensions in Kashmir only if and when the state makes a credible political initiative. Once the state’s guns fall silent for some time only then can we expect these youngsters who have taken to the gun to abandon violence.