Inside Kupwara’s old dak bungalow, a new politician is taking his first steps in the Valley’s treacherous electoral field. Clad in a grey phiran, Shah Faesal has begun what he calls a “movement for change” from his home district, where his decision to resign from the civil services and stand for political office had created a flutter.
Faesal is sitting on a sofa, his arms inside his phiran, clutching a kangri (a wooden pot with embers, for warmth). Apart from a lone policeman with grizzled hair, this is a room full of young men. They shake hands with him, take pictures and call him “Shah sahab”.
“We come to him with our hopes as well as apprehensions. As a bureaucrat, everyone looked up to him, everyone knows his story. He is one of us and he knows our struggles,” says Asim, who works with an NGO in Srinagar and came 95 km to attend Faesal’s public meeting.
Faesal, 35, has grabbed national headlines since he topped the civil services exam in 2009, becoming the first candidate from Kashmir to do so. As an IAS officer, he often spoke his mind on social media, engaging thus with thousands of young Kashmiris. So when he recently quit bureaucracy to join politics, many called it a natural progression. Having announced he would not join any existing party, he is expected to announce own outfit soon.
However, Faesal’s political entry is drawing comparisons with that other young leader from Kupwara — Sajad Lone of the J&K People’s Conference — in what may go against him. Like Faesal now, Lone had created a stir when he began his sojourn into mainstream politics, abandoning separatist politics, to contest the Lok Sabha elections in 2009. Faesal is also being compared to Sajad’s father, Abdul Gani Lone, who, as a young lawyer from a Kupwara village, had won the 1967 elections.
However, since then, disappointing many, Sajad has chosen to join the BJP.
As he holds meetings at Kupwara in the run-up to the general elections, these are some of the questions Faesal is confronting. As youths ask him why they should vote for him when there are other candidates, he often invokes his “sacrifice”.
His other challenge is the lack of a political organisation on the ground, unlike the People’s Conference.
He also discusses with his supporters the need to bring Kashmir to a point where a solution to the larger issue is possible; explains why he decided to join mainstream politics, and not the Hurriyat; and talks about recent politics, including West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s recent face-off with the Centre.
Back at the dak bungalow, as a man tries to wrap a blanket around Faesal, he pushes it back respectfully. As more people come in, Faesal listens more than he speaks and allows those present to make long speeches.
As more young men enter the room and request selfies, a member of his team jokes, “He has posed for at least 10 lakh selfies…”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines