It is a rare annual story of success that has become a part of Kashmir’s political discourse over the past six years. Every year as the UPSC results are announced, more than half a dozen Kashmiris pass the high profile examination, some of them ranking among the toppers.
This year also seven Kashmiris aced the examination with one Athar Aamir-ul-Shafi Khan, 23, ranking second. Son of a school teacher, Khan hails from South Kashmir’s Mattan. This was his second attempt.
Last year Khan had also cracked the exam but his rank was 560. He was offered Indian Railway Traffic Service. He joined the training but appeared again to enhance his rank.
Khan’s success takes forward a story that has run parallel to the reports of Kashmiri youth joining militancy. Khan represents a cohort of Kashmiri youth -miniscule though – whose aspirations draw them towards mainstream India. Around more than forty youth from the state have cracked IAS in past five years. And with each year, an ever greater number of the aspirants are taking part in the exam.
The trend began in 2010 when Shah Faesal became the first candidate ever from J&K to top the exam. In Kashmir, admiration for him was laced with a degree of ambivalence. IAS represents India’s bureaucratic establishment and Shah Faesal was seen to have emerged as the unlikely Kashmiri icon for it.
But now a similar ambivalence is being felt towards Khan and the other seven who made it this year.
“India today is an India of possibilities. Being young today means being a part of the huge transformation that this country is going through,” Khan said in an interview.
He also doesn’t see any contradiction in being a Kashmiri and an IAS officer,
“I don’t see any contradictions,” he said. “There is no doubt about my patriotism. The IAS gives you an opportunity to stay in India and that is what I want to do.”
This is a statement that runs seriously afoul of the everyday conflict discourse in the state. And it is reflected in the political response to the development. Mainstream political parties were quick to congratulate Khan but separatist groupings maintained a studied silence.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said in her congratulatory message: ““There is no dearth of talent in our state which Athar has proved today. Many congratulations for having successfully cleared the exams with flying colours and my best wishes as you start your journey to serve the people”.
Similarly, Omar Abdullah said Athar Khan’s success is a “beacon of inspiration” for the youth.
“His success should inspire many teenagers, school students and college students to strive for excellence,” Omar said.
This was the case wth Faesal too. The joy over his success in 2010 was restrained with separatists choosing to ignore it and the mainstream parties celebrating it. Faesal has been the subject of the most truculent scrutiny of all. There is a tendency to cast his actions as a bureaucrat in political terms. He has been subject of the debate on social sites and in newspaper articles.
But this has hardly stopped the new rush. And the aspirants unlike the prevailing discourse over IAS don’t necessarily see their choice in ideological terms. To an open letter by a pro-separatist youth in 2010, accusing him of siding with India, Shah Faesal replied: “I am not a Chaudhary of India not should you act as a Chaudhary of Kashmir. Let the story unfold. Time will decide, who betrayed and who didn’t.”