Updated: May 3, 2022 8:52:15 am
As former politician Shah Faesal returns to the Indian Administrative Service, the political party he founded with much “hope and promise” virtually exists only on paper.
The politics of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM), founded by him six months before the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and including people largely not much versed in local politics, revolved around Faesal. When he quit politics and the party, it quickly disintegrated with almost all its prominent and senior leaders leaving.
Headed by Ghulam Mustafa Khan, the JKPM officially is still part of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), the coalition of mainstream parties which is seeking restoration of Article 370. Recently, its two biggest members, the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, called for fighting elections together.
Khan, who was the party’s president for Tribal Affairs when it was headed by Faesal, is a resident of Aragam village in Bandipore who resigned as college lecturer to join politics. He is currently a District Development Council (DDC) member.
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Despite Faesal’s appeal, it was always going to be a tough climb for the JKPM. Formed in February 2019, it failed to attract established politicians, barring former minister and PDP leader Javid Mustafa Mir. Among the most prominent leaders to join its ranks was JNU student leader Shehla Rashid Shora, who shot to prominence during the sedition allegations levelled against an agitation at the university, and Mumbai based businessman-turned-politician Feroz Pirzada.
Still, in the tired old politics of Kashmir, seen as compromised and unable to put up much of a fight against the dominant BJP-led Centre, the JKPM’s slogan of ‘Hawa badlegi (Change Will Come)’ had raised attention, and even some hopes, especially among the youth.
One of the causes the JKPM took up was supporting the Awami Party’s Engineer Abul Rashid, in the 2019 parliamentary elections. Rashid is currently in Tihar jail after being arrested by the NIA in an alleged hawala case. While Rashid lost to the NC’s Mohammad Akbar Lone, he finished impressively ahead of PDP candidate Abdul Qayoom Wani.
Soon after, the Narendra Modi government that returned to power in 2019 moved to abrogate Article 370, strip away the special status of J&K, and split the state into two Union territories. Most of the separatist and mainstream political leadership was put behind bars ahead of the move. Faesal, who was in Delhi, escaped that round-up, but was detained on August 14 when on his way out of the country. A day before his detention, Faesal had said in an interview to BBC’s Hard Talk that there could only be two types of people in the changed Kashmir, stooges and separatists, and he would not choose to be a stooge.
By the time he was released from detention 10 months later — after the release of Farooq and Omar Abdullah, but before Sajad Lone and Mehbooba Mufti — Faesal appeared to have had a change of heart. A few months later, on August 9, 2020, he announced he was quitting both the JKPM and politics.
Before that, in October 2019, while Faesal was still in jail, Shora had quit the party and politics.
With Faesal’s departure, the JKPM saw much internal bickering, triggering more resignations. While financer Pirzada was made its interim president, he was thrown out of the party by the group headed by Mir. On October 27, 2020, Pirzada too announced he was quitting politics.
In the December 2020 DDC polls – the only political initiative held in Kashmir after the abrogation of special status, and the only election fought by the party – the JKPM won four seats in alliance with the PGAD.
About a year later, Mir left the JKPM, for Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party. The other party leaders either quit silently or went dormant, leaving the reins to the little-known Mustafa Khan.
Khan claims the JKPM was very much standing. “We were not aligned to Faesal but to a thought,” he told The Indian Express. “The resignations do affect the party for a while, but they don’t end a party.”
On why the JKPM is not very active, barring an occasional press statement, Khan said they are “silent” because every other political party is “silent” currently. “Tell me, after August 5, 2019, has any political party shown any growth?” he said. “When the political situation improves, you will see that we will emerge as a potent political force.”
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