‘I Travel Across Country to Speak on Kashmir’

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Kannan Gopinathan

FORMER star bureaucrat turned ‘quixotic’ politician’s fresh farewell to politics has fuelled speculations of his probable “Ghar Wapsi” in the valley. Shah Faesal’s dramatic career flip-flop is only reminding many of his onetime IAS colleague—who akin to the Lolab medico carried “fluent and freethinker” image on social media—before hanging his Babu boots over the abrogation of Article 370 last summer.

But unlike Shah whose return to the administrative ranks remains a rampant rumour in the valley right now, Kannan Gopinathan, ex-Indian Administrative Service officer, has clearly refused to resume work after the Centre summoned him to return to duty in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic early this year.

Gopinathan is very vocal about certain issues such as violation of fundamental rights and the newly enacted citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). “Our urge to express is very fundamental to us,” he says.

A strong advocate of human and fundamental rights, Gopinathan has taken the current government upfront on various issues. In an exclusive chat with Kashmir Observer, the ex-civil servant talks in detail, why J&K was the reason for his resignation from his job.

J&K was the reason you quit your job, what is your stand now on the current situation?

There’re certain principles you abide by, those are what the country stands for.

One of those principles which are non-negotiable is the principle of fundamental rights. We saw how blatantly fundamental rights of people of J&K were taken away. For enforcing the decision, the entire state was put under lockdown; all sorts of freedom of expression and freedom of movements were halted. Without even invoking the emergency, the government did all this.

They did not even think that there would be an outrage, and unfortunately there was no outrage anywhere in the country against this. They put all sorts of restrictions to prevent the protests. This is not acceptable in any democratic country. There is a right to react to the citizens against any government decisions. Even in Hong Kong when protests went violent, the violence was separately dealt with but the protest was allowed.

This is not the kind of government I would like to work for and even validate with. I have a lot of faith in our institutions, be it the judiciary, be it the media, be it our civil society and political parties.

Suddenly, at that time I felt that the judiciary is not even ready to hear various corpus petitions. The media was outrightly lying that people were celebrating in Kashmir. It became entirely the propaganda of the government at the hands of so-called free media. The civil society is completely drained with their propaganda and that was proven by their victory in the 2019 elections. The country right now has a feeling that questioning this government is dangerous. I feel this trend is very dangerous.

It does not matter whether it makes any sense or it will make an impact, I wanted to come out and say this is not done, this is not acceptable. I do not want to be associated with the actions and decisions of this government. It did not just end there. It went on to CAA protests and then riots took place.

J&K was a place where they brazenly imposed everything and thought that no one would oppose. They froze constitutional activities there for such a long period.

I strongly believe that it is not people in power who make the dictatorship, it is citizens who decide whether they want to have a dictatorship or not. When citizens become lazy, they stop asking questions and when citizens take a step back that is when the government starts thinking that they can do whatever they want. If the citizens keep on questioning, that is for the larger good of the democracy.

I am not just upset with what the government did in J&K, but with citizens, because they did not protest against the government’s actions in J&K.

As a nation we are failing. Now, I am receiving so many messages from Kashmir, that now the lockdown is slightly normal. So, it takes an entire nation to come under a lock down to relax Kashmir’s lockdown.

Country is not just geography; a country is its people. The pride and values take us forward and these values are inscribed in the constitution. We say that J&K is part of our country and then why these values don’t apply there.

I am travelling across the country. I have travelled to more than 70 districts in 19 states. There, I speak on various issues. I speak on Kashmir as the reason for my resignation. I ask people, what we have achieved with it. I tell them that we have hurt our emotional bond with the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

We should always make the government accountable. It should never feel that it will just leave without being questioned, that is a dangerous thing, that is how government starts feeling powerful instead of accountable. People called me foolish, they told me I could have done better by remaining in service. People called me a coward; one thing I realized is that just resigning will not be of anything.

After resignation I decided to go to people and tell what we are doing in Kashmir is wrong.

You said that recently you travelled a lot in India, did you see any change in people’s perception regarding this?

I asked questions. I asked them why they were happy with the abrogation of Article 370. They told me three points: first, to end terrorism, second, development and third, national integration. I just did not go to the cities but also Talukaas and other rural pockets.

People say, ‘Bharat ko ek karna hai’. I countered, ‘Do you think people of Kashmir will get closer to us after so many restrictions are being imposed there?’

Then people say, ‘Nahi woh hamse door chale gaye hain’. Then I asked regarding Article 370, ‘Has the situation improved in Bihar, which doesn’t have 370. They said, ‘No’. I asked if there are jobs in the states which don’t have Article 370.

Then people realized what is wrong or right, because a large section of the country is in a poorer state than Kashmir. I ask people, ‘Do you think militants read Indian Constitution? How come the removal of Article 370 will stop terrorism?’

The conversations helped. There were elections in four states after abrogation of Article 370. The results clearly showed that this move did not have any impact.

The government said that your resignation has not been accepted yet, and it wants you to rejoin the service, what do you have to say on this?

I resigned in August 2019. They haven’t processed my resignation so far and they want me to come back for this COVID-19 pandemic. But, I took the decision on principles. It is difficult for me to continue now. I don’t find the letter given by the government in any good faith. I feel that it is just to further harass us. I doubt the intention of the government.

I told the government, I am ready to work as a volunteer and not as an IAS officer.

Recently, the Supreme Court has said that the current situation in J&K needs to be reviewed, what is your take on this? Do you think it will bring some relief to the people?

It is so unfortunate. It took months for Supreme Court to come and say in respect to internet services and it is a matter of protection of fundamental rights and even then there was no immediate relief given by the Supreme Court.

Why the Supreme Court is taking so long, it is not a minor issue, but a matter of utmost importance. It should be on the priority list by the highest judiciary and that is to ensure the right of the citizens.

The job of the apex court is not to further the interest of the government but to protect the rights of citizens. That is not the way a judiciary should function. I am disappointed because I expected much more from our judiciary. It should have been reviewed months earlier.

I think our judiciary has somewhere started being assistant to the executives instead of being a protector of the citizens’ rights. The judiciary must be critical of the government.

As a citizen, what is there to fight against the government? It is the judiciary! Where will the citizens go, if judiciary starts taking soft stands on the government’s version. The media believes what the government is saying; the judiciary believes what the government is saying, so where will the citizens get relief from?

Do you have some hope now, after what the Supreme Court said?

I don’t know. This government is not afraid of any major institution in this country. Just see what just happened with the Sabrimala case. At first, Supreme Court gave the verdict and later it was transferred to a larger constitutional bench.

If the government believes that there are miscreants or bad elements then it is unfair to deal with the entire population in the same manner. That is not how you treat people in a democracy.

During pandemic, everyone is advised to work from home. Even students are advised to take classes online. Do you think the slow internet is a hindrance in this direction in J&K?

There is a need to restore the high speed of the internet in J&K. Even before the pandemic, internet is the right. People use internet to express their views. Now people are advised to work from home and students are advised to take online classes. And why just these things?

Internet should be restored on moral grounds. Just pandemic should not be the reason to restore the internet, it should have been restored way before it. Pandemic has made the situation even worse and citizens should be given relief in this regard.

J&K’s mainstream political camp faced crackdown last summer for expressing their views against Centre’s moves. Do you think that the government should now allow the free flow of political dissent in the region?

Political dissent is a right. It should have never been stopped. How can such a decision been taken without taking into consideration the views of previous Chief Ministers. Would it have happened in other states like UP and Haryana?

Do you expect this incident to happen in other states, where influencers are sent to jail? You can say political aspects and etc. If their influence creates a negative impact then it is the government’s failure and the government should be answerable for it and the citizens should not suffer because of this.

Do you think opposition played its part rightly on the matter?

I made my point in the beginning only. My disappointment was not only with the government. It was with various political parties also. I had my disappointment with the judiciary.

I suddenly felt that as a nation we decided to keep quiet. You know something is not right and even then you decide to keep quiet. You have a right and duty to call out that this is not correct. Because, this is the reason we have a constitution. This is the difference between a constitutional democracy and a monarchy.

Many are celebrating, many are giving mixed responses, many are saying let us just support the government. This government functions in this way only. Any decision they take is portrayed in the larger interest of the nation and they say it should not be questioned.

First you blatantly take decisions and then you say anyone that questions is an anti-national. It is very dangerous according to me, no government’s decision is unquestionable, and we are not in a war-like situation.

Any decision taken should be questioned so that the pros and cons can come out. If you call anyone anti-national then we are shutting down the discourse.

Be it judiciary, be it political parties, we must realize that this is a very dangerous situation for the country. These are not our country’s constitutional values. It is our responsibility to voice our opinion in the strongest possible way.

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Mrinal Pathak

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