Kannan Gopinathan came into the national spotlight in August when he resigned from the Indian Administrative Service to protest against the manner in which the special status of Jammu and Kashmir had been revoked. Since then he has campaigned and spoken relentlessly against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the planned National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register, which will be conducted alongside the Census.
Gopinathan was at Bengaluru’s St Joseph’s Institute of Management on January 10 to speak about the controversial initiatives. In this brief interview, he explained why he was so exercised about these plans.
How do you see the CAA, NRC and NPR unfolding in India?
The government has said we are not discussing about NRC. But they should come out and say there is not going to be an NRC or come out with rules and regulations or change the rules at least, in the NRC part. Secondly, because of all these statements, there is [an] absolute trust deficit with the government. So whatever they say is not going to matter at all. It’s their actions that are going to matter. Citizenship Amendment Act is beyond the government, they can go to the Supreme Court and ask for an early hearing and request them to say that it is unconstitutional, so that the whole thing goes away. The CAA goes away and the NPR is stopped for the moment, then at least the Census can happen. Otherwise Census will get hampered as people will boycott that as well.
I think people have owned it up and [they] have understood the concern, [which] is why they are protesting. The only way for this movement is to win. These are simple questions. These are not big questions for the government to show so much of ego. It’s a simple Citizenship Amendment Act. Maybe they can, under the executive rules, give citizenship to people who require it and they can say NRC and NPR will not be brought in. That’s it. We have so many pressing issues to deal with.
Yes, challenges such as state of the economy, unemployment…
Yes, government’s own advance estimate says that it is going to be 5% growth, whereas SBI says it is 4.6% and the nominal growth is going to be 7.5%. It is the lowest in 42 years. And the government thinks granting and not granting [citizenship]...is the main concern...We have a 46-year high unemployment, [which] is not the concern. And god forbid if something happens in the Middle East, we are going to have supply shock on the oil side and the whole economy is going to go for a toss. Already it has gone for a toss because of really stupid decisions by the government.
What were the factors that led your resignation?
The reason for resignation is that after abrogation of Article 370, or revocation of special status [for Kashmir], I felt the way we went about implementing the decision in Kashmir and the way India as a democratic country responded, or rather did not respond...was blatant violation of fundamental right[s] of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. I felt we are being too silent on [an] issue [on which] we should have raised questions. So that is the reason I resigned.
What actually happened when you went to Uttar Pradesh earlier this month?
I had been to Agra earlier for a talk and to Lucknow as well. In fact [in] Lucknow, we had to change the venue because the first [one] got cancelled. But Aligarh Muslim University’s Resident Doctors’ Association had called me for a talk, sort of a speech, at a panel with many other people and I had agreed to go...From Gwalior, I was traveling in a car to go for this event...Then I got a call from [the] district administration, saying I should not come because they got a direction from the state government that I should not come to Aligarh and speak. So I asked what is the reason, he said there is no reason. The state government has directed that I should not so I said that is not sufficient reason for me to not come.
As long as UP is part of India and I am free to travel anywhere in India, I will be travelling. They may do what they feel like. They were probably tailing the vehicle and they arrested me in Agra [on January 4], before I could reach Aligarh. They detained me and kept me under detention till night and then they dropped me to [the] railway station...In fact, they escorted me to Delhi in the morning. Only after I left Delhi, they went back. Imagine. I felt like UP is not part of our country anymore, it’s like some other area.
There have been protests and agitations in the past few years – protests at JNU, returning of awards over intolerance, strikes at institutions like FTII. But the government has not rolled back any of its decisions. Are you hopeful now?
Earlier the intellectuals were protesting or the JNU students were protesting or a community was protesting. Intellectuals were not coming out with the masses. Now you are seeing students, intellectuals coming out with the masses. Ramchandra Guha is getting arrested along with the protestors, so that is a powerful symbol. A leading historian is coming and asserting his fundamental right like a student who is studying or a labourer who is working. So everybody is exercising their fundamental right to protest together, and saying that we will not allow this happen. We will not allow for the idea of our country to be destroyed in this way. And that is going to be the success of this movement. It has just started. It is going to go on for a long time. This is a fight we cannot afford to lose. So if we can’t afford to lose, we can only win.