Former Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer and social activist Kannan Gopinathan is known for his ability to ask uncomfortable questions to people in power. A down-to-earth but daring personality, he had left the administrative services as a mark of protest against the restrictions imposed by the Union government in Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370.
The former bureaucrat spoke to Gujarat Exclusive’s Hitesh Chavda in a free-wheeling chat on issues ranging from the coronavirus pandemic and India’s response to the ‘Namaste Trump’ event in Ahmedabad, and from government’s offer to re-join the services to an FIR registered against him in Gujarat. Excerpts….
Q: What are your thoughts on the ‘Namaste Trump’ event organised in Ahmedabad amid the coronavirus scare?
A: We all are aware that the first case of coronavirus was reported in India around January 30. Many countries had already imposed a travel ban by then. However, in India, we were organising a huge event such as ‘Namaste Trump’ and at the same time, political slugfest was going on in Madhya Pradesh. India’s response to the global pandemic was late. In fact, on March 13, the Union health minister said coronavirus is not a problem in India and on March 18, the junior finance minister said nothing was going to happen to the Indian economy. On March 22, we had the ‘Janta Curfew’. This means that there was a lack of communication and discussion at the top level. From “corona not a problem in India” and “nothing is going to happen to Indian economy”, a countrywide lockdown had to be imposed within a week. The entire country is paying the price for misplaced priorities and delayed response of the government.
Q: Do you think there is a need to create awareness and encourage the youth in the present situation?
A: The young generation is educated and aware of the situation prevalent in the country and can help authorities as volunteers. They can act as intermediaries to connect people with healthcare professionals. There are IT professionals who can use data to predict the situation in hospitals and other important facilities. The disease is not going to stop with the lockdown. So, youngsters need to be trained to assist health workers. There is a need to engage the youth at all levels and the youth should be made part of the national response.
Q: What is your opinion on the way the media is covering the coronavirus pandemic?
A: There are certain media houses that are covering the prevalent situation in a responsible manner, whereas there are some other media houses that are doing it differently. Many journalists understand their responsibilities and criticise and question the government in power. It is the responsibility of media to question the people in power and this is how they can express their patriotism. The most patriotic thing for them is to express the opinion of the country.
Q: What is your take on the case registered against you in Gujarat?
A: I do not know the details of the FIR and am yet to get a copy of it. I don’t know why my name has been included. It was Prashant Bhushan who had tweeted that migrants were starving and forced to walk miles to reach homes, whereas ministers were busy consuming and feeding Ramayana and Mahabharata. My tweet was related to PM-Cares. I had questioned how the government can ask people to clap for medicos on one day and the next day cut their salaries, who are actually risking their lives. That’s why a case has been registered against me under Section-295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that deals with insulting religion or religious feelings. How is my tweet on the deduction of doctors’ salaries related to religion? Let them do whatever they want, but this country is not going to shut people’s voices.
Q: You have been asked to re-join the administrative services. What is your take on the offer?
A: I have been asked to re-join service after eight months of my resignation. Certainly, they intend to harass me more. Whatever I want to do, I will do it for my country, but I will not join the administrative services. I am serving the country at my own level. Some NGOs have also sought my help.