In the evening on 4 August 2019, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti, who had been toppled as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) by withdrawal of support by the BJP in June 2018, mobilised leaders of different mainstream political parties in Srinagar against New Delhi’s move to revoke the state’s special status.
Senior leaders of Congress, PDP, CPI (M), Peoples Conference (PC), Awami National Conference (ANC) and J&K Peoples Movement (JKPM), mobilised and led by Mehbooba, gathered at the National Conference (NC) patriarch Farooq Abdullah’s Gupkar Road residence. Their meeting ended with a collective pledge called the ‘Gupkar Declaration'.
The Gupkar Declaration resolved, “that all the parties would be united in their resolve to protect and defend identity, autonomy, and the special status of the JK State against all attacks and onslaughts whatsoever. That the modification, abrogation of articles 35A, 370, trifurcation of the State or unconstitutional delimitation would be an aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh”.
Most of the Kashmiri politicians were taken into custody and detained under preventive and substantive laws as the authorities maintained that, alongside a possibility of the militant attacks on them, their statements and political activities could pose a threat to the law and order situation. Such threat perceptions receded and the government declared all the mainstream leaders, excluding Mehbooba, free between March and July 2020.
Significantly at a time when the people of J&K were wondering whether the parties would reconcile to the changed realities and start their politics afresh or stand monolithic in their demand for the status quo ante, the JKPM founder-president Shah Faesal announced his resignation. “The first wicket (of Gupkar Declaration) has fallen”, someone observed on Twitter.
Faesal’s resignation from politics has hogged headlines but for the political analysts more important are the reasons behind his change of mind—“I have a dream to see peace returning to Jammu and Kashmir and the people here getting access to best education, health and employment opportunities”.
Some commentators are asserting that the former IAS officer, who had dreams of giving clean and honest politics and governance to the alienated Kashmiris, had been “pushed to the wall” by his year-long detention. They are trying to convince their audiences that the “grey space” in J&K’s politics had been clipped and someone in the politics there, after August 2019, would be seen only as “a stooge or a separatist”, in Faesal’s own words in a <em>BBC</em> interview last year. They are dismissing his decision as “emotive” and calling it “escapism”. According to them, it was a “defeat for the Indian democracy” and nobody would either trust or participate in the democratic processes in future. Their entire effort is to blame the BJP-led government at the Centre and prove it wrong.
However, the counter-argument is that Faesal has neither been patently critical of the “Indian actions” nor expressed desire to escape to business or some foreign country for studies or other things. On the other hand, Faesal himself has unequivocally complained against his detractors within the valley. According to him, Kashmir had drifted to an abyss where “only the dead leaders are good leaders”.
“I have taken a decision to move on in life and do something else. Those who are spreading canards about me were enjoying barbecue on the Boulevard when I was in jail. I have nothing more to prove to anyone”, Faesal has said in an interview with <em>Greater Kashmir</em>.
“It’s not a U-turn. It’s called moving on. It’s an ethical realisation that while I can do my politics by promising sun and moon to people, I must do that, keeping in view the changed political realities in Kashmir. I can still talk about plebiscite, UN resolution, return of article 370 and appeal to crowds. But I don’t want to deceive Kashmiris at a time when facts on the ground have changed”, Faesal has reasoned.
According to today’s Faesal, Kashmir is “a society in conflict that doesn’t trust anyone”. In his words, it is “a society that has become so cynical that while I was in jail, away from my family, people were celebrating and abusing me. For what. For having stood up for them? We make mistakes but at the end of the day what matters is whether we take lessons from them or not. I am happy that I got to know so many people during this time. My understanding of Kashmir politics improved. The jail term has particularly changed my worldview and given me new insights into life. I am not regretting”.
According to Faesal, “Delhi is not Dalal Street of Kashmiri politics” and the Kashmiris should realise that “August 5 has eliminated all future deals and dealers in Kashmir”.
While quitting politics Faesal has, in fact, broken the ice and become the first signatory of the Gupkar Declaration to view abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A, along with conversion of the erstwhile state into the two union territories, as fait accompli. He has stirred a hornets’ nest of trolling against him but remarkably none of the other signatories has so far assailed his act as treason or escapism. While Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and their NC have remained mute, Mehbooba Mufti’s tweets, run by her daughter, have put the blame on none other than 'New Delhi'.
Leaders in several parties, including some in PDP and PC, have described Faesal’s resignation from politics as his “personal decision” which they have invariably respected. As regards the question of the apprehension of “boycott to all future elections”, one of them said: “Even in far worse situations, many of the Kashmiris have come out to vote. The first day of the elections in future will come as a litmus test to Delhi’s August 2019 actions. I am sure the turnout will be high and many of us will be proven wrong”. He asserted that just one year, 5 months of which had been consumed by the coronavirus pandemic, was not enough to draw any conclusions..