'I cannot tolerate injustice': Interview with Kannan Gopinathan who quit IAS

This is the worst social and political situation after emergency: Kannan Gopinathan

Kannan Gopinathan's yeoman effort during the floods that ravaged Kerala in August 2018 had earned him plaudits. The 2012 batch IAS officer, who was the power secretary of the Union Territory of both Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, quit his post earlier this week reportedly owing to political pressure.

Gopinathan cited his inability to voice his opinion freely as a reason for quitting.

In a chat with Onmanorama, the 32-year-old bureaucrat, who hails from Kottayam, opens up about his thoughts on the Indian Administrative Service and the circumstances which forced him to put in his papers. 

What is the exact reason behind your resignation from Indian Administrative Service?

I entered the civil services with an aim of lending a voice to the people of India. I found it unable to manifest my goal. The people of an entire state in India has been denied their fundamental rights for many days now. We do not think, write or express our views regarding that. This is not happening in Sudan, Siberia or any other part of the world but in our very own country! This is in Jammu and Kashmir.

It is the worst social and political situation after the Emergency. The fundamental rights of over 80 lakh people are suspended without even officially declaring an Emergency. Most of us are not even aware of what is happening in Kashmir. We think about it as it is happening in some 1970s.

Had I owned a newspaper, I would have made it a lead everyday until their fundamental rights are restored.

This is the worst social and political situation after emergency: Kannan Gopinathan
Kannan (right) as a volunteer at a flood relief centre in Kochi last year. File photo

I cannot fathom the guilt and regret of not acting on time, when I think about such violation of rights our society is going through. That is, precisely, the reason behind my resignation.

Is seven years a period enough to take such a decision?

Not at all. My experience is not a criterion to judge my personal decisions. Be it seven years, two years or 17 years -– my decision would have been the same in today's circumstances.

It is not just about your seniority. I cannot tolerate injustices in our society. There is no point in continuing in the service if you are unable to express your opinions freely. Now, I realise that I could never have done it had I continued in the service.

I always had an urge to break the shell and express my opinions. It wouldn't happen if not now. Imagine you are staying back at your home and you suddenly develop an urge to get out of the house. Each minute you spend at your house will seem unbearable thereafter. The same happened in my case. This is my conviction.

How did your family respond to it?

My wife offered whole-hearted support to my decision. I can't reveal her whereabouts because of sheer insecurity. Professional vengeance may drive people to spoil my wife's career also. This is the level of insecurity I face for carrying out my official responsibilities. Do you call this a democracy?

What are your future plans?

I haven't decided yet. As of now, I have decided to quit the civil services. This is not my way of serving people.

When did you start dreaming of becoming an IAS officer?

Civil service was never my dream. My dream was to serve the people. Civil service is one of the many means to fulfil that dream. When you realise that you are unable to fulfil your dream through the means you chose, you have no other way than switching your means. You will have to look for alternate means.

I decided to crack the Civil Services Examination when I was 25 years old. I already had four years of experience working in a multinational company in New Delhi. I used to serve the slum-dwellers by teaching children and admitting them to government schools nearby. There were many road blocks in getting things done when it comes to the needs of common man. I visited several government offices and authorities to help people. I was an active member in people's movements against the UPA government, which was in power back then.

At a point, I felt I could do more if I become a part of government. That is the reason why I attempted the Civil Services Examination. I am an IAS officer of AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory) cadre of the 2012 batch. I have been in service for seven years now.

What would you like to tell young IAS aspirants?

You don't have to suffer all your life just because you cleared an examination. It is indeed commendable to have cleared the civil services exams. But you ought to have a purpose before clearing it. Continue in the service only as long as you can serve that purpose. Think whether you would have taken the level of mental stress and pressure had you been pursuing any other profession. You become an IAS officer because of your abilities. Don't stick to the service because of your inability to say a 'no' where it is needed. The IAS should never become a sword hanging over your head.

Don't think that civil services is the only means to serve people. You can find a lot of other ways.

How do you look back at the response to your efforts during the 2018 August deluge?

To serve the people during floods was my calling, not my professional duty. It is always good to follow your heart if it doesn't affect your professional commitments. I could come down to Kerala and serve my people during 2018 flood only because I could spare some time. All my efforts would have been in vain had it affected my professional commitments. Manifest the calls of your heart all by yourself, but meeting both the ends is important.

That is the reason behind my resignation as well. There is no use of a civil servant like me in the land where I serve. At the same time, I am guilty of not being able to express freely when my fellow human beings are denied of their rights. So it is better to leave behind such a profession. I simply chose my freedom of expression over civil services.

Your message to the people of India

Democracy is about protecting fundamental rights. If you protect your neighbour's rights, your rights shall also be protected in between. My idea of democracy is where people's fundamental rights are valued and protected. I have strong views about all these. I will soon be writing in detail about all the issues I faced.