NEW DELHI: A retired senior officer from the government of India asked, “what do you make of Shah Faesal, who is propping him up?” The question in itself sums up the cynicism with which the security establishment and the media looks at Kashmir, flushed with funds from intelligence agencies from both sides of the border, stalked and followed by the military, where shadows are not trusted even as the bodybags make it ---as Faesal said--”a graveyard at the highest altitude in the world.”

A small Valley in a relatively small state of India, Kashmir is tired of its own politicians who have a trajectory of betrayals and blood. The younger Omar Abdullah was welcomed with open arms, but the deaths of 120 plus youth under his watch in a matter of weeks placed him outside the periphery of acceptance. Mehbooba Mufti emerged but her performance was such that she made her National Conference colleague seem almost acceptable.

And now from a fairly similar middle of the road moderate path has emerged Shah Faesal, a IAS topper, a young man who did Kashmir proud in the rest of India. And conversely,made Kashmiris proud when he resigned from the Indian Administrative Service to follow his heart. He sounds idealistic, speaks with passion, betrays a commitment to peace and unity. And speaks of Kashmiri pandits with the same ease that he does of Kashmiri Muslims, rare in the world created for people today.

Faesal quit with the broad idea of joining an existing political party, National Conference being the preferred choice. In what he describes as “conversations” with the Kashmiri youth he was convinced that this was not a good idea, as these were discredited forces, and he would do better to start a political party of his own. That is what he is working on, with the task being far more onerous that perhaps he had expected. However, the process is on, a good name for the party is being discussed, and he hopes to move forward with a categorical announcement sooner than later.

Syed Samar Hamid who runs the Hamdard Study Circle (founded by Syed Hamid, former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University) remembers Faesal as a young, bright student being coached here for the UPSC examinations. Hamid met Faesal during his recent visit to Delhi with the observation, “he has matured tremendously since, he is so bright and brilliant.” That seemed to be the uniform consensus as Faesal after a panel discussion in the immediate wake of the Pulwama terror attack in Delhi, organised by the Centre for Policy Analysis,became the centre of audience admiration. Everyone wanted a photograph with him, everyone wanted to shake his hand, everyone wanted to share a word of encouragement with Faesal managing to leave only an hour after the event had ended.

Beyond doubt Faesal has excited the imagination, in both New Delhi and in Srinagar. Seniors who attended the meeting were full of praise for the young man with Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar declaring later to this writer that he would be contesting the elections from Shah Faesal’s party. Of course he said he was joking, but the seriousness underlying his words spoke of hope that a “bright, intelligent” (as he put it) young man from Kashmir had risen yet again to bridge the gap, reach out, and open a window when all doors seem to have shut.

Perhaps this is an exaggeration, and the young man is just the fizz that will subside. But given his courage to speak his mind, face the trolls, and walk the tight rope between the militant and an aggressive government with aplomb, well there is substance here. He is well aware of the guns on either side, having been in government he has a fair idea of the dangers and the challenges ahead, and yet has opted for the tougher path.

A couple of days he tweeted, “it snowed in North Kashmir today. After a sunny morning Like always.

Every year for thousands of years, Herath has brought snow

Even when Jabbar-Janda forced Herath to ho Summer

It snowed.

Shiva is in Kashmir

Thali thali rozaan.”

Faesal admires Imran Khan as he does Arvind Kejriwal, suggesting Khan be given the Nobel Peace prize. This brought the trolls to his door but also earned him applause as he explained that he was suggesting this so that the Pakistan Prime Minister would be encouraged to “change the way Pakistan operates in the South Asia region.”

And again a few days ago, “Shivratri mubarak to all Kashmiris and to entire humanity Kashmiri Pandits will one day come back to their homes and we shall celebrate together These distances are not going to last This war is going to end.” This tweet had over 6500 Likes.

Faesal speaks the language of a liberal moderate. He has earned admirers in hardboiled Kashmir but also in Delhi from amongst the few who have heard him speak. The auditorium in Delhi where he spoke was packed to capacity, overflowing with young people from the universities. He answered questions in detail, and while he said it all, he said it in a language and tone that did not offend or confront but reasoned.

Whether Faesal will be able to step in on ground that the others have vacated remains to be seen. He is waiting now for the Election Commission of India to approve his new party before the elections. His constituency, he is clear, is the youth of Jammu and Kashmir.

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