From Civil Services to Public Life
‘Joined politics to fight Delhi’s anti-Kashmir, anti-youth policies’
Creating larger discourse needs right people to get elected to highest offices: Shah Faesal
In 2010, Dr. Shah Faesal from Kashmir hogged newspaper headlines for topping India’s elite civil services examinations. By being vocal over many issues on India’s political spectrum, he immediately became controversial. On January 9, Faesal, resigned from civil services to protest the “unabated killings in Kashmir” “rise of Hindutva forces” and “reducing Muslims to second-class citizens” in India. In a candid interview with Kashmir Scan’s Nazir Ganaie, the former star bureaucrat talks about his plans, his “public movement” and joining electoral politics for “overhauling the system”. Excerpts
Why this shift from elite civil services to pubic life?
Personally, it is a big sacrifice for me. I must say it is more a conviction because I believe we can ourselves bring change on the ground. It can be brought about by giving up something in order to achieve something big. It is also more about the strong feelings, that not all is lost, and that we can still make things work in our State. My quitting the services was a strategic decision and yes we all need to wait for the right moment to make the right decision for the right impact that is how life moves on.
Who was the first person to know about your decision?
It was my family. It took me almost two years to persuade them, especially my wife, because it was a big decision for both of us. But thank God, they are with me and they support my every decision.
How do you see your own decision now?
Honestly, I had never thought that I would get such an unprecedented response from the public. Youngsters have been highly overwhelming about my move and my decisions. This has put me into a challenging job. However, I am doing my every bit to reach out to the people, especially to the youth and listen to them – their grievances, their aspirations and their suggestions. I somehow made up my mind that there was a deadlock in Kashmir and we needed to make a political statement about it. Now that I had spent nearly a decade in the civil services, I want to continue working with this zeal in the larger public life. I am not leaving service because of disillusionment. I didn’t fail. I didn’t find myself suffocated. It was only that in Kashmir people have been making immense sacrifices to be heard. I am just trying to create a larger discourse where we all can come and play our role. People in Kashmir have given up their lives, their jobs, their dreams. Now it is time for me to sacrifice something dear to me and talk about Kashmir, the atrocities, the possibilities, the issues – small and big – and the solutions.
How deep is the rot in the system?
It is not that I have been critical of the system that I served or that I belong. But, yes, I have always been outspoken about the issues that I felt that the existing system wasn’t responding properly.
Your own colleagues accused you of violating the civil service conduct rules.
I agree that there are conduct rules and civil servants are not supposed to criticize the government but at the same time, there are larger moral questions that I am talking about. However, talking about these moral questions doesn’t mean I am criticizing the government. Issues like rape culture and corruption need to be talked about and discussed within public institution. All of this just means that I talk in favour of public, which is quintessential for a public servant.
Would you take forward this rebellious attitude into your political career as well?
My approach to governance is that governance is for the people and we need to give power back to them. What has happened over a period of time is that we have taken power from people and power has become concentrated in privileged and elite classes, it lies with bureaucracy and politicians. It’s the time that the power needs to be given back to the people because that’s exactly where the power belongs.
And how will that be achieved?
That can only be done when we make our institutions accountable and ensure transparency in our public administration. Public service delivery improves and citizen-centric governance is provided.
In your service career, you inspired a young generation to join public administration. Do you think you can create the same impact in the political arena?
I think I am trying to broaden the already existing space which I had created for the youngsters within the system. So far it has been about civil services. Now it’s time for us to occupy the political space as well. I think the last 30 years we have kind of abandoned the political space. That’s why the right people are not coming out of political sphere. Resultantly, the kind of policy which we are seeing, those policies are not necessarily the way it should be. We see a lot of anti-youth policies when it comes to their employment opportunities. We saw the issue of SRO 202, Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission and Service Selection Board. The nepotism in JKKVIB recruitments and other public institutions needs to be addressed. All of this happened because we have wrong people holding the political offices. While it’s important for people to enter public services, it’s equally important for them to enter politics.
How would you take the decision of joining electoral politics forward now?
Honestly, having seen the response so far, it gives me immense happiness that people want to come forward and they want to contribute. I now plan to go to all districts. I am getting requests from the youth across the State. I want to understand the mood of the people. I am meeting people from all sections in Kashmir. I plan to fight elections now and I am not associating with any political party. There have been many speculations about me joining National Conference but I must say a lot was being speculated.
How would you react to your critics who accuse you of jumping into uncertainty?
That’s how those who have a mission do it. I had certainty in my job. I had a secure career for next 25 years. Maybe I would have been holding some of the highest offices in India. But that isn’t how the change comes. Change comes when people go beyond their comfort zones when they take risks, when people sacrifice, when people tread into unknown territories.
You talk about engaging with Delhi while Hurriyat accuse it of pushing youth to the wall, and limiting their space to grow?
I totally accept and agree to that. Delhi is pushing Kashmiris to the wall and that political challenge is a biggest and separate challenge and that is a part of the challenge. Unless you do something about the political solution and conflict resolution, things aren’t going to work. There is already space here where people come and fit in. Shah Faesal may not contest elections tomorrow but elections will be still held. So it is also highly important that we do something about our day-to-day issues and resolve the important public matters.
Some observers say you could have contributed more efficiently within the bureaucracy and solved day-to-day issues of people. Why politics?
Bureaucracy operates in its own space – bureaucrats cannot dictate terms to politicians. A politician represents will of the people, and in a democracy like ours, it is the will of the people that prevails and the politician has the absolute discretion to decide policy. It is the politician who has the say in framing policies, and the bureaucrat has a say in its implementation. So it really is a matter of what kind of politician is sitting at the top. Politics is part of the puzzle, in reaching solutions to our issues, but it is a very important part, perhaps one of the most important pieces of the puzzle.
Mainstream politics is seen with a lot of skepticism. Why?
(Laughs) Because I told you right people aren’t holding political offices and there is a lack of accountability and our institutions are in shambles. I am a man from the system and I worked as an officer at different positions. The governance space has politician at the top, but the kind of politics they do is all for themselves, and they aren’t answerable to anyone, not to the minimal percentage who vote them to the power. With all this mess in the system, this heavily leads to lack of accountability and complete governance failure.
Then why did you choose to mainstream politics?
Because I believe, I can contribute more here than anywhere else.
Is your appeal of launching a crowdfunding campaign for clean politics and corruption-free administration a message for another front?
I never thought things would be so overwhelming and people would come forward like this. I want people, especially the youngsters to be a part of this journey for clean politics and corruption-free administration in Jammu Kashmir. My appeal has received an overwhelming response. But I want to clear one thing that I wouldn’t be accepting any foreign funding and I will ensure that all donations are public. It is heart touching to see the response and sentiment of people as hundreds have already deposited donations in this account. The donations start from Rs 2 to Rs 50,000. Somebody donated their earrings and deposited money in my account. Coming out for donating for electoral politics in Kashmir is something I have not heard of in recent times.