I must be free to speak and express my own feelings freely: Kannan Gopinathan
Kannan Gopinathan, former officer of the Indian Administrative Service 2012 batch, had stepped down from service in protest against the government measures to curb the individual rights of the citizens in Jammu & Kashmir. An allrounder who loves adventure and football, he is also a brilliant drummer, apart from his quest for knowledge. In a brief conversation, he gives us a glimpse of his life after resignation, away from the glamour of civil service, amidst the common man.
Is he short tempered, was my first question to him. He looked surprised and wanted to know who actually had such an opinion about him! “I don’t think I have a bad temper. But sometimes while in service, when many aspects had to be coordinated during events, I am not sure if I had appeared annoyed which might have given the impression of anger. Of course, I will work on it and please convey my gratitude to the person who brought this up,” he amazed me with the humility of even taking criticism in his stride gracefully!
Kannan Gopinathan speaks on his life after retirement
We quickly shifted to a lighter mode as I enquired how his growing up years. “I come from a humble family in Kerala. My father was in the government service and we don’t own a house even now anywhere in the country. As children, we used to be a part of RSS and the Shakhas till my engineering days,” he said casually.
How come he married a North Indian girl? ”I met her when she joined as a volunteer with the NGO activities I had taken up.” He graciously went on with the details about the endeavour, “While I was working in Noida, a few of us had decided to teach the children who were coming to sell products on the streets. We would share ₹500 each for this but the result was not coming as expected because the children would not be coming to the same spot to sell the goods everyday. That was a real problem we faced.”
On his transition to a civil servant, he points out, “When we couldn’t find our efforts to teach the street kids match the goal we had set, we decided to get into the system. By this time, I had married. My wife wanted to prepare for civil service and I went with her for the coaching. I had good marks in the exam, but didn’t secure a rank that time. Then my wife asked me to quit the job and prepare seriously, while she would work. Thus I got into service.”
Why AGMUT cadre, which is unique too, was a natural question from me. “I had secured rank 59 in the UPSC exam. My cadre preferences were a bit strange, with Uttarakhand, AGMUT and Bihar being the top 3 choices. For the first posting in fact, when we in AGMUT were asked what our preferences were, I remember saying that I will be happy to serve anywhere in India.” He doesn’t cease to astonish!
Since it was hard to believe, I keenly queried if the family went through the crisis with full support. “My father is no more, my mother had no issues with me quitting the job, but when I explained the reasons, she felt disturbed if there would be any harm. My wife has the same ideas, so she supports me throughout just like how it was during the civil service preparation time,” he explained patiently.
Has the allegations that he quit because of the show cause notice made him sore? “Those mentioned in the notice were not even the kind of charges to fix a person. The show cause as well as my replies are all known to public now. Everything is transparent from my side. I had replied to the charges and on the 5th of August, I was given additional responsibilities, where the matter ended for me.”
Wouldn’t it have been effective to protest as an insider while in service? “It was difficult as it would have looked like cribbing. In bureaucracy, there are restrictions and that is not the kind of fight that I wanted to put in. Somewhere down the line, I decided that I must be free to speak and express my own feelings freely.”
What does he do for a living now? “See, would this question have come up if I was working and my wife had resigned? This is how most families in our country live. That is how I am living too, but here it’s the wife who is working as an IT professional. It’s not like we don’t have a decent way of living or accommodation. We have a rented apartment, my kid is going to a school and we have only limited requirements like food, WiFi, phone recharge, etc.”
Rather than questioning, I was in a mood to discuss if he planned to get into another job. “As of now, I am not planning anything like that. I am learning Chinese now, especially after the Galwan valley incident. There are government sponsored think tanks, but in the geopolitical reality that we are in, there is greater reason for independent thought process and reading independent articles. We need to be critically aware of the thinking, the language, the culture, the underlying strategy of what we call the largest raider. I was trying to listen to some videos that were coming out, but was unable to understand anything. Now I have made some progress that I can read and write a few words in Chinese,” he pauses on a serious note before adding, “the political reason is to become the President of China! I am slowly building a club,” he bursts out laughing heartily after cracking the harmless joke.
Is there a political party that he approves of? “I don’t think I approve of any majoritarian politics. I don’t consider the current government as nationalistic or majoritarian or even Hindutva and things like that. The government exists for the government’s sake, just to further the power. I don’t agree to that. The state should exist for the welfare of the citizens.”
Further we moved on to topics like his political aspirations if any. “I have not quit the job for power. If that was the case, bureaucracy was a greater option than politics. I resigned for matters of principles. Regarding joining politics, there have been a few offers initially. I am not a member of any political party. None of us have a NGO either. My views are certainly political. But if I wish to be part of electoral politics or not, I have not decided. I am not averse to politics, but have not thought it through,” he sounded very diplomatic, but reiterated it is the actual situation .
Would he be launching his own party like Shah Faesal? “I look up to him as someone who had placed his trust in the administrative and political system of the country. Likewise, I have immense faith in our country and its constitution. But there are constraints in thinking about a new party or even what I want to do. Now even my travel expenses are being taken care of by those who invite me to speak. It has been only one year. I need time to get clarity on my thoughts.”
Being a Keralite, why he is not interested in Kerala politics is something I felt odd about. Does he feel there is nothing to oppose there? “I had left Kerala after my 12th class and even now I am not living there. It has been 17 years now since I am away. Hence I am not closely following the political happenings out there. Of course, if there are serious issues where I need to comment for the benefit of citizens, I would do that. Otherwise, apart from the overall knowledge, I am not aware of regional politics.”
Finally, I put forth the most relevant question as to what it is that he stands for. “I stand for the privacy of citizens and individual rights in a republic or a country. All other institutions and other things must be in and around enhancing those rights. It’s not about Modi government or any other for that matter. We have come to terms with power differences, so it seems natural when citizens are ill-treated. We don’t see our rights empowered. The change should happen at all levels from bottom to top. Once a government is elected to power, the citizens should question the decisions, irrespective of who is in power, for the sake of the country and people.”
It takes a different kind of courage to throw away the coveted position of a bureaucrat, only to pursue the struggle to bring about the change his heart longs for!
(The author is chairperson CSA, Dir TGL, Editor Intl Journal, Sr Dir FWO)