IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan doesn’t hide his disappointment. He had expected more people, media and other institutions to stand up for the right of the people in J & K. An indefinite lockdown and blockade of communication, he asserts, cannot be acceptable under the garb of national interest.
Posted at the department of Power in the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, he had submitted his resignation to the Home Ministry on August 21.
“The government has every right to take policy decisions decide and people may agree or disagree with them, but only as long as the decisions are Constitutional and legitimate. Once the decision is taken , if the Government doesn’t allow people affected by the decision to react, it would be suffocating, he points out. In any robust democracy, protests are accepted as part of people’s rights and freedom,” explains Gopinathan.
Edited excerpts of an interview with Ashlin Mathew:
The government has served you a notice asking you to rejoin service. Will you be joining back?
This was a procedural notice from the Dadra and Nagar Haveli administration. There is always an intervening period between the date of application of the resignation and the date it is accepted. The notice is asking me to join during this period till it is accepted. In the normal course of time, it would have been appropriate to join, but now that I have gone public with the reason for my resignation, I find it to be inappropriate on my part to re-join. Moreover, the government can keep a resignation pending for long.
I have not yet conveyed this to the administration as they just pasted this notice on my house.
Why do think there were not enough protests countering the decision to abrogate Article 370?
I think everyone was taken in by the national interest narrative. The narrative was that this decision was taken in national interest,so everyone should support this decision. It is being built up as a patriotic duty. I define patriotism as one of our fundamental duties and to do one’s own job in the best possible way is the best service to the country. That is the best form of patriotism.
The Media’s job is to highlight and report the truth without thinking about who the active or passive players are. We are a democratic nation and we have every right to know what the government is doing to the rest of the people.
We are too worried about perception; how will a majority of people view us? What if it proves to be a good decision in the future – all these are worries. Even if we are convinced that it is wrong, we are worried about being proved wrong later on, hence most people do not express their protests as strongly as they would have otherwise done so. These feelings have crept into all of us. We forget that it is in the nation’s interest to go with your conviction and stand by it.
Everyone is worried that if they raise their voice, the government will come after them.
You had mentioned you had got into the service to be able to serve the people…
I don’t necessarily think that one can only help people while being in the service. We see the system as driven only by supply. But, even the bureaucratic system is a small subset of the larger democratic system. So, in that way, one is not leaving the system, but only leaving a small subset and entering a larger subset.
Now, the smaller subset is supposed to fulfil the demands of a larger system. As of now, if there are good officers, more work gets done,whereas if there are officers who aren’t diligent enough then less work gets done. This delivery varies tremendously from 20% to 80%.
This is a kind of variation one should not accept in a democratic system. When it is demand driven, people have expectations irrespective of the officer who comes in. There should be certain standards we expect irrespective of the individual who occupies the chair. Then 20% depends on the person as my priorities would be different from another person who joins, but 80%must be demand driven. In such cases, individuals will become irrelevant whether you are in the system or outside it.
Many a times, we are worried about the national narrative and not the local narrative because every sector has a freedom of expression issue.
Why do you think there has been no legitimate discourse in the country about the denial of rights to the people of Jammu and Kashmir?
We argue on three different levels – first is usually name-calling, then ad hominem attacks or character assassination or assign some false motives to the person, the third is whataboutery.
These are extremely substandard level of discussion. But,majority of people do this and this is our own fault as this is how we alsengage with most people in educational institutions. How many schools actually teach the hierarchy of arguments? It’s not taught how to argue even if you disagree with a person. How many of us are taught the fallacies of an argument.
We have a history of Tatyashastra, a philosophical discourse of how to debate. With that kind of history, we have been reduced to name calling. That is because we have not put these in the educational system. We have to learn how to put our argument across; it is the basic requirement of a democracy. If we know that then all of this discourse would be happening on a much higher level. The solutions would be much better.
Do you think there is no space for dissent in this country?
The space for dissent is never reduced. The space for dissent is taken away when people give up their own space. The space is always there, and it depends on how much space we want to take. We often limit ourselves, because we don’t want to draw attention or be called‘anti-national’.
When I took this decision, a minister from a neighbouring country stated that other civil servants in the country should take similar steps. The person was trying to interfere in what is our internal matter. I can be worried about it but I consider him and his comment irrelevant in our country’s context. So, it really doesn’t matter what he says. Those who are waiting to interpret it in different ways are people who have an inferiority complex and insecurity about their own country. That is why they do not want anyone to comment on our country. We are a strong democratic country where there is space to dissent, let anybody say whatever they have to say. As long as we are confident about what we are saying, nothing else should matter.
We are only worried about the narrative and we are not really worried about the country. In Daman and Diu, the government informed 500 people that they do not have to report to work. Do you think if I did my jobwell and helped these people, they will care about my comments?
The country has thousands of issues and for that demand driven system to happen, everyone has to demand at every level. If that happens, then our country is much better than yesterday.
If there is some issue in my house, I want it to be sorted out and I cannot be bothered about what the neighbour thinks. I have to live in my house and that fellow will always remain a neighbour.
It’s up to us and there is nothing that is limiting us. Itis our country, our democracy and our elected government. Who should we be afraid of? This self censuring is self-defeating.
Are you hopeful of finding a job soon?
If you work hard enough and are ready to work as hard as I did to get into the service, I am sure to be able to find something. I don’t think it will be hard to find something to do. I would like to work in a sector where I will be connected with people and as of now, I will have to take a salaried job.
What I have given away is the satisfaction to be able to improve things at the ground level. The only thing I can get back is by connecting with people on issues at a level I am capable of.
What are the circumstances that led you to resign?
Once you enter any organisation, there are certain rules which apply. Certain freedoms are taken away and in return you get payment. In an office, if you are required to reach at 9 am, you cannot walk in at anytime. You could say that it interferes with your liberty.
Now, in a normal organisation such rules are acceptable as decisions of the organisation are affecting only the employees or the clients in a limited way. But, when it comes to the government, its decisions affect everybody. The conduct rules say that one cannot criticise the government’s decisions in public. All those in the service are required to abide by the rules.
But, then it becomes difficult. If you want to abide by the rules, but you know there is something larger affecting the society and the entire country.Then, it is a question of what is more important to you. How do you do that?The first thing is to get out of that contract to regain your Constitutional rights back. Then, you can use it in a way that is appropriate.
I really think those in the Services should have the freedom of expression. It is in the interest of the country that everyone gets to know the thought processes of those who are in the administration and influencing policies of the country. It should not be seen as an attack against the government, but as an individual opinion. If that much freedom is there, Ithink it can create a much healthier democracy. Then issues can get discussed and maybe better solutions can come up.
Today is the 25th day of the communication blockade in Kashmir...
I know I am a nobody, but I cannot accept it. This is not the way we treat our own people...
Why did the lockdown and communication blockade in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 trouble you?
Several people are saying that it is a bitter pill or an injection similar to what a doctor administers to a child. I don’t agree with this analogy as we are all adults and not children and the best way to function in a democracy is to consult everyone before taking a decision. Even if we were to go with the ‘bitter pill’ argument, after an injection is administered, do we keep the child’s mouth shut or do we allow the child to express emotions? So, it is extremely suffocating.
The government has every right to decide and we may agree or disagree with its decisions, but as long as it is Constitutional and legitimate, difference of opinions are only disagreements. It’s a democracy.But, after the decision is taken, if you don’t allow the people who are affected by it to react it will lead to suffocation.
In any sufficiently robust democracy, protests are a way of expression. The violence in such situations has to be addressed, but to contain violence, you cannot contain the freedom of expression itself. In such scenarios, one doesn’t know when excesses are done, because the voices from the ground are not reaching you.
There is a danger in shutting down freedom of expression. If it happened for a day or two in certain areas, then it is okay, but the entire state has been shut down. I do not agree with the argument that it is being done for their own safety. I honestly expected a lot of protests from the other players in the democracy – be it media, civil society or Opposition parties —using whatever resources they had. I thought we don’t stand up now for our own brethren, who are going through a difficult time now, it becomes difficult to answer to oneself and to them at a later time.