‘Couldn’t speak against the killings’

Ehsan Fazili in Srinagar

Shah Faesal hogged the headlines in 2010 by becoming the first Kashmiri to top the Indian Administrative Service exams. This success made him an icon for the youth in Kashmir and inspired many other Kashmiris to qualify the coveted examinations. However, moved by the situation in Kashmir over the past few years, he has opted to join politics, armed with the experience in the system. The resignation on January 11 again made news. He talks to The Tribune about his reasons behind the decision.

You say you have been thinking of resigning from the IAS for the past two years. What has been bothering you all this while and why did you decide to take the plunge now?

This has been on my mind for the past two years now. The political situation in Kashmir, more so since 2012, has been worsening. As a civil servant, it has been very difficult for me to speak out against the culture of killings in Kashmir and lack of any political initiative from the Government of India. So, it had become important for me to make a statement and I felt it was time I did it.

You have resigned in protest against the government’s lack of political initiative in Kashmir and for restoration of peace in the state. What, in particular, prompted your decision?

I think the most potent provocation was the educated people picking the gun in the Valley. PhD scholars are leaving universities; professors are giving up jobs in colleges. This situation has the potential of putting Kashmir on flames and escalating tension in the region further. It was important for me to alert the Central Government of the situation in the state and this is my way of doing that.

What has the response from people across the past one week been?

The younger generation in Kashmir was initially skeptical about my decision. However, over the past one week, there has been a flood of support in my favour. I had expected this response from the youth. Hundreds and thousands of people came to my residence in Srinagar pledging their support for me. That was something totally unexpected. I want to meet people on the ground and I know there will be a lot more to learn and educate myself in.

How do you plan to consult all stakeholders and sections of society?

My idea behind going to the field and meeting various stakeholders, including youngsters, is to see whether they are ready for supporting me in the upcoming elections if I contest. We have a conflict situation at hand. It is important to understand the ground sentiment first. Neither I nor anybody in my family has been active in politics. I have to interact and understand the opinion of youngsters first and then take the next step.

I am seeking feedback from everybody out there and anybody who matters or has an opinion on Kashmir and gets affected by the situation here. I am ready to listen to everybody and learn from them. I am a newcomer in this field. It is a complex situation.  I hope various stakeholders will be ready to share their ideas with me.

You have said that your resignation was a “strategic decision taken at the right time”. How and why?

Resignations are not served every day. It is a one-time decision and once in a lifetime too. I was out of state for about a year during which I gathered the courage to leave the job. I understood my own reasons for doing so and found a certain purpose.

Do you think your stand on consultations with the separatists has created problems for you?

Absolutely not. I think I have stated a fact. If we want to de-escalate the situation and want peace in Kashmir, it is important that we listen to every stakeholder. Hurriyat (separatists) is a very important stakeholder. However, they have not reacted so far and I am not sure how will they respond.

How do you think will your experience of being in the system help people?

I have an understanding of how the legal and policy frameworks work. I think that puts me in a better position to understand the system and the processes that can facilitate dialogue and smoothen the communication between Delhi and Srinagar. My exposure to civil services has given me some leverage. I think the most important missing element at this time is the dialogue between Delhi and Srinagar and that needs to be picked up again.

What about talks with Pakistan?

I believe whenever India and Pakistan have talked, we have seen the situation improve on the ground in Kashmir and on the border. The loss of life in border areas like Poonch, Rajouri, Samba and RS Pura in the Jammu region and Uri or other areas in Kashmir has come down. To de-escalate the situation and improve in the situation in J&K, it is important that the dialogue between India and Pakistan continues.

Governor Satya Pal Malik said that you could have served people in a better way as an IAS officer rather than as a politician. What do you have to say?

Everyone has an opinion. I respect Governor Malik. I have chosen a path for myself after due consideration and have no plans of going back to civil services.

What is your ‘idea of India’?

When I look at India and what were the circumstances under which J&K, rightly or wrongly, acceded to the union of India, it was Mahatma Gandhi’s India. It stood for democracy, equality for all and peace and giving space to the marginalised communities. However, the India that we have been witnessing for the past few years is not what Gandhi had envisaged.

Are you planning a visit to your home in North Kashmir?

I plan to visit all districts of the state beginning with my home town.