When you need to invent reasons like conscience and ethics to give yourself a halo and media access before you exit, you need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
The departure of three IAS officials this year, all allegedly Kashmir-related, has a phony ring to it. Starting with Shah Faesal in January to Kannan Gopinathan and S Sasikanth Senthil in recent months, it would appear as if significant sections of the civil service have suddenly had attacks of conscience over the government’s moves in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).
Faesal, who has since floated his own party in J&K, grandly announced the reason for his exit as “the marginalisation and invisibilisation of 200 million Indian Muslims at the hands of Hindutva….”. He also mentioned “insidious attacks on the special identity of J&K state…” and “unabated” killings as other reasons for his exit, which came well before article 370 was dethroned in August this year and the state bifurcated into two Union Territories.
This is rich, rich. Statistics from the South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) show that the level of terrorist incidents and deaths were no different when Faesal joined the IAS in 2009, and the last two years of NDA-2. In 2009 and 2010, terrorist incidents in J&K added up to 488 and 586, while in 2017 and 2018 the corresponding figures were 398 and 598. As for killings, the relevant figures for 2009 and 2010 were 209 and 189, and for 2017 and 2018 they were 163 and 205. The killings may not have ended, but if the high levels of casualties are a reason to exit the civil service, surely Faesal should not even have joined it when the numbers were as high as now? How did he top the IAS in 2009 without understanding this reality?
His charge of marginalisation of Muslims is valid, but it has always been so since the time of Nehru to Manmohan Singh, when a Sachar committee went into the issue and found Muslims lacking in both education and jobs. On the other hand, the triple talaq issue showed that under NDA-2 Muslim women have, for the first time, started becoming visible in public spaces. Far from being “invisibilised”, they are becoming more visible. It is, however, no one’s case that Muslim numbers in government or private sector employment is what it should be. This will happen as education and skill levels rise with a new class of Muslims.
Faesal’s exit note is nothing more than a statement related to his impending political career.
The other two exits, by 2009 batch officer S. Sasikanth Senthil, and 2012 batch officer Kannan Gopinathan, sound even more like attempts to invent a reason for exit than in the case of Faesal. Senthil is quoted by The Hindu as saying that it was “unethical” for him to continue in service when the “fundamental building blocks of diverse democracy are being compromised”.
Gopinathan claimed the IAS was unable to provide a voice to the people, and mentioned the revoking of article 370 and subsequent clampdown on communication services in the Valley as his reasons for resigning. “We got into the service thinking that we can provide voice to people, but then we ended up with our own voice being taken away from us. In a democracy, let’s say Hong Kong or any other democracy, if the government takes a decision, that is their right. But the response to that decision is the people’s right. Here, we have taken a decision and then we have detained everybody. They are not even allowed to respond to that decision. That is dangerous.”
Maybe both feel strongly about democracy or giving voice to the voiceless masses, but this is difficult to believe.
When Senthil joined service in 2009, J&K was as much on the boil and facing repeated curtailment of services and normal movement due to civil disturbances, often led by jihadi elements. And such clampdowns have been part and parcel of the Indian state’s response to insurgencies in Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur for decades now. So, a temporary clampdown to prevent unnecessary killings resulting from the spread of fake news by Pakistani and jihadi elements can hardly be called unprecedented.
As for the ethics of remaining in government, Senthil did not find it odd serving a corrupt and scam-ridden UPA, but now finds an act necessitated by the need to reduce violence and misinformation in J&K as huge assault on democracy itself. He will be right only if these clampdowns continue for too long – but that is hardly something we can know now.
Actually, there was a fourth IAS exit that evinced very little comment. In Telangana, Akunuri Murali, a 2006 batch IAS officer, quit last month after he was shunted to an insignificant post as Director General, Telangana State Archives and Research Centre for Ethno Sociology. He took voluntary retirement early as he felt that “in my present post, I have had no work at all for the last one-and-a-half years.”
That this resignation received little media attention while the other three, those who criticised the Modi government, got top billing tells us a story. The three Kashmir-related critics were probably trying to create a backstory for an always-planned exit.
Many people leave the IAS to pursue careers in start-ups, non-government organisations and to answer other callings (read some examples here). Many do not find the IAS system flexible enough to enable them to be more creative with their jobs. So, it is good that they quit in order to make themselves more productive.
However, when you need to invent reasons like conscience and ethics to give yourself a halo and media access before you exit, you need to be taken with a pinch of salt. If Gopinathan and Senthil ultimately end up with political careers, their statements will be seen for what they probably were: invented attempts to paint themselves in virtuous colours.