Shah Faesal, who had left the Indian Administrative Service to join mainstream politics in Jammu and Kashmir, has said that New Delhi’s decision to scrap special status and bifurcate it and two Union territories is “a demise of the political mainstream in the state” and “a slap by the Indian state on the face of all those people of J&K who sought a resolution to the (Kashmir) conflict within the parameters of the Indian Constitution”.
“I see it as a catastrophic turn in our collective history, a day when everybody is feeling that it is a death knell to our identity, our history, our right to our land, our right to our existence. A new age of indignation has begun from August 5,” he told The Indian Express.
Faesal, the first Kashmiri to top the IAS in 2009, resigned from the service earlier this year and set up J&K People’s Movement with an aim to join mainstream electoral politics.
“Putting 8 million people under incarceration, unprecedented curbs on their lives, shutting down the entire communication system, and a brazen show of might of the state and giving out a message that we are ready to kill thousands of youth for the sake of this assimilation is extremely worrisome,” he said, referring to the current lockdown in Kashmir.
“Political mainstream had the argument that we are going to protect the special status, that there are still ways of maintain our cultural identity, our political being within the Indian union. This government has demolished that argument because the J&K state has been demolished; those constitutional guarantees have been demolished,” he said. “It is the extremist side that will get traction now — those people who always believed that Indian state would never be honest and sincere with the people of Kashmir. It is their win today, no matter how sad it may feel.”
Faesal said that the “real consequences of this step will be known when the curfew is lifted. Once it starts sinking in and people start to face the consequences of these drastic steps, day to day incidents of indignations start happening and people feel their land, their identity have actually been taken away from them, I think it is then when the real consequences of this government’s decision would be known. I am scared that Kashmir might enter a new phase of conflict, which we have never imagined.”
Stressing the “need to mount a people’s resistance against this government’s decision”, Faesal said, “It is going to be a protracted resistance to recover what has been stolen from us in broad daylight.”
About Article 370, he said it had been “hollowed to some extent in the last 70 years and become some comforting fiction”.
“But this shell still protected a Muslim-majority state that had acceded to India in 1947 based on a few conditions completely against the spirit of the Partition that time when it was expected that J&K, a Muslim-majority state, would actually accede to Pakistan. We had never imagined, I mean the entire political leadership of Kashmir, that such a devastating step would ever be taken. We believed the Government of India had learnt from the mistakes of the past.”
He continued, “In 1953, when the Prime Minister of J&K was arrested by a junior police officer, that incident alienated the generation of our grand parents. In 1987, when the elections were rigged deliberately, our parents’ generation was alienated. Now this is going to further alienate the new generation of Kashmir. It represents an unprecedented betrayal with the people of Kashmir, breaking down all those agreements on which this relationship had come into existence between the Union and J&K.”
He said that the scrapping of special status and bifurcation of J&K has been termed “Operation Kashmir”, adding, “It is being seen as an act of conquest, and you talk to anyone in Kashmir today, they are saying this is the real face of subjugation. The Indian state has finally thrown its glove out and shown its real face to the people of Kashmir. Everybody in Kashmir believes this is forced integration, which is never going to work.”
Faesal said the government’s targets in Kashmir today are those who believe Kashmir’s future is in India. “The worst part of this Operation Kashmir has been incarceration of mainstream leaders and discrediting of mainstream leaders — firstly by building a narrative of corruption around the political mainstream when you know there have been far more corrupt politicians holding high offices in the country and we know how investigating agencies have dealt with them. At the same time, there has been a wilful demolition of democratic institutions in the state. It was done first by delaying elections for a long time and now by revoking statehood and removing special status,” he said. “It reflects a totally bleak future, a new dark time for the state.”
He said the J&K reorganisation Bill is full of problems. “Delimitation will be now done at the will of the Lieutenant Governor, an unelected nominee of the Centre. So delimitation will also be aimed at disempowering the majority population. Ladakh is already dissected out of Kashmir even as we know Kargil is opposing it. Even in Jammu, a senior BJP leader Nirmal Singh (former Deputy CM) has said they will ask for some domicile status like Himachal Pradesh to preserve land rights.”
Referring to the apprehension of a demographic change, Faesal said, “When demographic changes are brought about with a design to disempower a certain population or deny their rights on their land or done through military oppression, then you feel extremely sad about it because it is against the will of the people.”
Faesal said the local bureacrats and police officers feel “extreme alarm and extreme sense of upset”. “I have been talking to my recent colleagues. They feel something very wrong has been done to the people of J. It is about identity finally.”
The former civil servant said, “The first thing to go is the state flag, which represented a certain historical promise we had made to the people. There are memories and struggles associated with that state flag and when it goes down, it takes with it the identity of all those institutions which were associated with it. What happens to the state services, what happens to state government employees? The police won’t be reporting to the elected executive. This means a conversion of this J&K state into a police and military Union territory. Even in the last couple of days there are instances of bullying of local population by central forces. They were being taunted and jeered. A sense of defeat is being communicated to them.”
Faesal said it gives “a feeling of occupation now. And it is sad that somebody who believes in the Constitution and who thought that we would get some remedy from the Constitution – this comes from his mouth. For the last couple of days, I am getting so much abuse on social media from Kashmiris who have been telling me that you are the people who were telling us there is some hope left with India and the Indian Constitution can give us anything. Today you saw the real face of India. It is sad that we don’t have any answers.”
The treatment meted out to J&K should worry the entire country, he said. “If it is with us today, it can happen to any other state tomorrow. There has already been a hue and cry in the Northeast… This idea of turning India into a monolith, eliminating all protections to people who have been provided those protections by the founding fathers of this Constitution, is going to be detrimental to India.”