Shah Faesal, the IAS topper who decided to quit civil services last year opting for public life, in a surprising reversal has bidden farewell to politics as his fledgling career became a casualty of the nullification of Article 370.
A strong critic of Article 370 before the abrogation, Shah called it quits from politics last week, a decision which has angered the population of the region. If things fall in place, Shah is likely to rejoin IAS later this month.
The U-turn has led to him being labelled as a ‘resignation man’, but he tells CNN-News18’s Mufti Islah that it was not surrender to quit politics, but a strategic decision, and asks why someone should come forward to lead when people are out to stab him in the back.
“I'm sure there are better people than me around who can change what I don't have the power to change.”
Below are the excerpts of the conversation as Faesal answers questions on what prompted him to shun public life, what lies in future for Kashmir in the new arrangement and how has life been in months of incarceration.
From a celebrity bureaucrat to an aspiring politician and perhaps back now as a bureaucrat, why have you been vacillating?
I see anger in this question and I totally respect it. There is this perception that I am a ‘Resignation Man’ and I keep hopping from place to place. But then it has to do with the way I understand life. All of us keep looking for bigger challenges. At times it works and at times it doesn't. There is nothing unusual about it.
Has this new realisation dawned upon you during your year-long detention?
Yes. To be honest I thought about it at leisure. Seven months into detention while my family was running from pillar to post, one local journalist, whom you know, did a story on my detention. He was trolled badly and unbelievable abuse was heaped on me, while I was inside. For what?
Then as the time passed I realised that suppose if I come out and ask for statehood, the crowd will cry ‘compromise’, if I demand restoration of Article 370, the crowd will cry ‘compromise’. Whatever I say, the response is already known. So I thought of moving on and doing something worthwhile in life.
You must have realised that mainstream politics is not a bed of roses. There are sacrifices to be made and sometimes you wilt under strong-arm tactics of the government and other times because of emotional pressures of family?
I was ready to make sacrifices and I did. But the issue is that do people even acknowledge the challenge that mainstream politicians have to face. All we see is abuse and ridicule. I don't know why someone should come forward to lead when people are out to stab him in the back.
Your family must have suffered in last one year? Is that a factor for you changing your decision? You must have thought why should they take this and don't they deserve to live normally and comfortably?
Honestly speaking, that's the most important factor. I saw how everyone abandoned us. My closest friends didn't ask my family how things were during this one year. It's terribly lonely. Kashmir is all about 'damas saeth namaskar'. No one cares a fig even if you lose your life.
Are you aware that people that includes your peers feel depressed and defeated with your decision to leave politics? They accuse you of letting Kashmiris down? First raising their expectations and later surrendering?
I saw a lot of negativity when I joined politics. People said I'm an intelligence agent. The same people who are crying now would refuse to visit my office as if it was a place of bad repute. It's very easy to pass comments on social media. But only the wearer knows where it pinches the most.
Some are even saying that you joining politics was about you and yourself. Columns were written about that only last year? Perhaps suggesting your own ambitions were central when you found a new political party?
Survival is the most fundamental consideration for us when we set out to do things. The person who wrote that article made his career out of working for state TV - Doordarshan. We want sacrifice from others while we will keep sitting in our cozy rooms waiting for the revolution to happen. I'm not bitter. I am just saying that everyone wants a good life and rightly so. Ambition is a part of will to life. When we stop being ambitious we die. What's wrong if I wanted to grow in life so that I would have a better life for myself and also help others?
Why did you leave politics so suddenly? One year is too little a time. Did you not think it through when you joined? Or you found later that there was no space in politics. Was it government taking away options that forced you to give up politics and pledge you won't ever go down that path again?
One year is a lot of time to take a decision. When August 5 happened, I had thought we people will change. We will realise what has hit Kashmir and we will now be more tolerant, more understanding of each other, more self-critical and more realistic. But at the end of the day, I saw the same old self-righteous people dominating the narrative, vilifying one another, creating divisions, and passing judgements. Then I realised that I am wasting my life and it is never going to be different.
I am too small a creature to change anything and I must give up the megalomania and move on.
Pardon me for being blunt… Did you surrender? Going by your own interview on BBC, what are you - a stooge or separatist?
There is a fine line between surrender and being strategic. Surrender is losing a battle before fighting it. Being strategic is about choosing your battles wisely and not imperilling your life at a wrong time for a wrong reason. I have the privilege of being a separatist and a stooge at the same time. I have been facing brickbats from both sides and it's a proof that I am neither of the two.
You seem to have reconciled to post August 5 constitutional change? Would you like Kashmiris to reconcile too? And other regional parties like NC and PDP too?
I am not going to give any advice to anyone. As to myself, all I am saying is that August 5 is a reality, we may like it or not. But we can't deny it. Those who have the power to undo it can come forward and pick up the gauntlet. Those like me who think we have no power to undo it should be given the freedom to tell people the truth and allowed to move on.
Now in some interviews you gave in last few days, I felt you are angry or disenchanted with people for not protesting your arrest? Was that possible with such security build-up? Many would say and they are saying that you blaming people is a ruse to get back into bureaucracy or comfortable position?
I was not at all expecting any protest. Never. All I wanted is a bit of acknowledgement. Not just me but all my detainee colleagues. When we see every day our mothers and sisters being abused by fellow Kashmiris not realising that we are in jail for a reason it is extremely hurtful.
Many also say your journey in last one year was choreographed to gain sympathy?
There is always scope for such wild speculation and that is one of the reasons that I am quitting. We live in a in a low-trust society. You will always be questioned till you are alive. Only your death can redeem your reputation in Kashmir.
Your recent interviews suggest you want to model yourself as a patriot and a victim of militancy? And you being a Muslim, Kashmiri and IAS topper will sell well across India. Pardon me, is this deliberate positioning?
I have been a member of IAS and however I might try to make myself anti-India, I will still be seen as a member of Indian establishment. I have no reason to play to gallery now. I don't want votes I don't want patronage. But in a situation where you can only be either with India or against it, I don't want to be deliberately ambiguous anymore.
Why did you not look for career options abroad? You were on a programme in Harvard? Why did you not rejoin that?
I have always wanted to go into academia. And my primary interest is in teaching. That might be the last one jump I will ever make if I get to make it. At present it seems a bit difficult.
There are apprehensions in Kashmir about Delhi trying to change the region’s demography, disempowering the majority and turning it into administrative and political minority? In such a scenario, would you still like to work with the government?
I was not in the government when Article 370 was abolished. The government has the power to do things with or without me. I have become a bit stoical in recent times and as says Epictetus, my approach to life now is we should pray for the courage to change things that we can and the serenity to accept the things that we can't change. I'm sure there are better people than me around who can change what I don't have the power to change.