Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru (DV)
Mangaluru, Jan 24: Former IAS officer Sasikanth Senthil had last served as deputy commissioner of Dakshina Kannada district. A 2009 batch officer, he had resigned in 2019 alleging that that it would be ‘unethical’ for him to continue as a civil servant in the government 'when the fundamental building blocks of our diverse democracy are being compromised in an unprecedented manner’.
Senthil then participated in protests against the government over the Citizenship Amendment Act and other issues. He joined Tamil Nadu Congress in 2020 saying he has always worked for the welfare of the people and will continue to do so.
In an in-depth interview with Daijiworld editor-in-chief Walter Nandalike on Daijiworld 24x7 channel's 'Rough and Right' programme, Senthil spoke on his political career and answered questions on his party's ideology and what drove him to join politics.
DW: You are a 2009 batch IAS officer. Your dream of serving the country through administrative services was fulfilled. You served as deputy commissioner at Chitradurga, Raichur and Dakshina Kannada. All of sudden you decided to quit. When exactly did you realise that there was a problem in our system and that you should quit service?
Senthil: Before joining civil services, I had made one decision in life. That is, my life should not be private, but public. Hence, I have no children or property. I wanted to be in public life and that was my decision. When I joined civil service, I was very happy with the work that I was doing. In service, I could mingle with people and also serve them. I was completely dedicated to my work. I was enjoying this service. I had an idea of India in my mind due to which I came to this service. As a person speaking a different language, coming here, travelling to different places, learning their language and mingling with them is my idea of India. Some forces question this idea of India. When those forces come to power, they want to establish a different India than the India that I believe in. Hence, I cannot sit silently and watch. Also, I have a responsibility for the next generation. When we watch these forces closely, in history, there are a lot of similar examples. I felt like questioning this. I also felt that India cannot be easily controlled. From 2014 till 2019, I was not expecting it in India. But in 2019, I was here and when I saw the election results, I was pretty sure that we were going in the wrong direction. Then I almost made up my mind that I have to fight it out.
DW: So 2019 election result was the turning point?
Senthil: Yes. And, I need to fight it. In our service, and when we occupy the chair, we need to be neutral. I felt that I have to come out of the service and fight it. Then they abrogated Article 370. It was the final nail in the coffin. Thinking that we should do something, I resigned.
DW: When you resigned suddenly, everyone was shocked. It was a surprise for people close to you and your fans, and even they could not guess that you were entering politics. A few people even hurled allegations of corruption at you and later everything became clear. My question here is that you have joined a party (Congress) which a few call 'sinking boat'. Their ten years of administration was full of corruption. Even in Karnataka their MLAs aspired to become ministers and later the government collapsed. Why did you choose this party?
Senthil: First of all, I define politics in a different way. When you are involved in people's struggles, you are already political. I see politics from that point of view. Only electoral politics is not politics. Secondly, we are fighting against a huge system today. That system is in power. I believe, after the Delhi riots, it was carried out in Mangaluru. I felt that we should bring a political solution, before people's protests. Hence, the primary opposition to these forces is the Congress party. If you choose a party, there should be three things. First is an organisation, and second is leadership and ideology. I believe in Congress’ ideology. Congress’ ideology is nothing but the idea of India. The concept of India was started by the Congress. Till date, the ideology has not died. The party organisation and people may be spoilt, but I see a big hope in the leader that is Rahul Gandhi. I feel that he has understood the system well. When I read his resignation letter, I came to know that this person has a clear cut idea of the existing problem. And he is somebody who is not going to budge under pressure from these forces. So I thought that there should be a national party to fight. If I want to join politics in Tamil Nadu, I should choose a party, and Congress is the right party there. I want to take this fight all over India and to be with a good leader who will not succumb. So, I chose Congress. I agree with your allegation but I will not defend it. But I am inside the party for the purpose of organisation and ideology.
DW: You have gained fame in Karnataka state, you made fame as a sincere officer in various districts, but why did you choose Tamil Nadu ?
Senthil: It is really a good question. After the Delhi riots I thought of entering politics. Tamil Nadu is slightly different. Communal forces have not entered Tamil Nadu. There was a great thinker called Periyar there, who drove these people (communal forces) from there. I always felt that the Tamil Nadu was safe. However, in the background of these elections, these forces have started a huge attack on Tamil thinking. Then I thought that being a Tamilian, when attack was happening on my place, I cannot simply sit and watch. I should do what I can. But I will not restrict myself to Tamil Nadu. I want to keep working against these communal forces throughout the country.
DW: So you want to be in national politics ?
Senthil: No, I want to be in grassroots-level politics, I want to be involved in people's struggles.
DW: Soon after you tendered your resignation, you got involved in some of the people's struggles. For example, during the protest against CAA and NRC, people identified you as a Communist. People also predicted that you may join a Left party, and felt that you are a follower of the Left ideology. What is your opinion on this?
Senthil: I should be proud of that. Yes, I am a Leftist, Ambedkarite and a Congressman. You can brand me as anything, as long as it is good. To me, even BJP is not a problem if they give up their hate politics. They are using hate for politics, and I cannot accept it, because this country is not like that. The only problem with the BJP is this.
DW: You were vocal in expressing your opinions during the protests against CAA and NRC protests. What point has it all reached to now?
Senthil: We managed to push back the government. There was ego in the government that they could do anything for the sake of power.
DW: Still, the government has not withdrawn CAA and NRC.
Senthil: No, but they (government) were pushed back.
DW: Don't you think it was because of Covid-19?
Senthil: Maybe, but they have still not started the process. They were supposed to start the census last February, but lockdown due to Covid-19 was announced in March. They were pushed back. People pushed back the government. That is what India is.
DW: Will you then continue your struggle?
Senthil: Yes, of course. Now the farmers are on streets to protest. Tomorrow the labourers will hit the streets. Until you (government) stop disrupting the idea of India, till then we will keep hitting the streets.
DW: In Karnataka state, in the same year two officers, one IAS (Senthil) and another IPS (Annamalai), entered politics, but have joined parties with different ideologies. Will you and Annamalai face each other in Lok Sabha or Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu?
Senthil: Annamalai is a good friend. He was my junior and probationary in Shivamogga. We have an ideological war, but other than that we do not have any personal issues. But wherever his ideology emerges, I will oppose it.
DW: Have you noticed it (ideology) within civil service?
Senthil: No, I did not. In our work, we protect the people. Annamalai has now completely turned to the other side. It will be opposed by many others and we will fight it.
DW: Can we expect to see Sasikanth Senthil as MLA in Tamil Nadu ?
Senthil: As of now, I have no such thoughts. Right now I want to contribute to all places. But in case I feel that this is the way I should go, I will never step back.
DW: There is not enough time for elections in Tamil Nadu...
Senthil: My strength is in grassroots politics. I will engage in people politics. Even as an officer I did the same. Now I am in an organisation, still, I am not in the game of electoral politics.
DW: Currently, how is politics in Tamil Nadu?
Senthil: What is exciting to me is that the whole of Tamil Nadu is standing against these forces, irrespective of who they are. This gives me a sense of happiness and pride. We will continue to fight.
DW: Since tendering your resignation, to what extent have you achieved your goals?
Senthil: To a great extent. When I quit, I had a question about how to face this. There was a lot of silence in society. Nobody came forward to speak out, they were living in fear. Within three months, after I came out of service, a movement opposing NRC and CAA emerged, and it was a big, proud movement. As many as 170 people sacrificed their lives, including two in Mangaluru. Taking part in this massive people's movement, I felt it was a great thing. Later, I met some of the best human beings in my life, who have dedicated their life in service of the country. I have started believing that India is still strong.
DW: If the government you favour comes to power in the centre, will you consider coming back to civil service?
Senthil: I don't think so. I am saying, it may be a favourable government, but this hatred should go away. Forces that spread hate should not be in power. Secondly, my generation has become apolitical, we have not been into politics. Our generation has not contributed anything (to politics), we simply bothered about our own lives. So the next thing I want to do is to completely work with people, with the party in the background. I have my own identity. I believe in this ideology of bringing everyone together and taking everyone together. And there is no question of me coming back to administrative service.
DW: Has your family not objected to your decision in this matter ?
Senthil: They have supported me completely. They believe in what I think is right. My wife was teasing me, saying now you have become Babu, while earlier in college days you were idealistic.
DW: Please tell me honestly, does Congress have a future in this country, or will Rahul Gandhi grow as a leader?
Senthil: Rahul Gandhi is a great human being. I believe all leaders are great human beings. Today there might be a big propaganda against him. His genuineness and goodness cannot be wiped away for a long time. He will become the very best of leaders we have. If you see the history of Congress, there were many ups and downs. Congress as an ideology will never die. If Congress dies, there is no India. It will revive. As long as India is there, Congress as an ideology will remain. That is my strong belief.
DW: Why did you choose Congress when there were many other options?
Senthil: Congress is present in every nook and corner of the country. Secondly, it has a good leader who understands well, and a good ideology. Congress is a people's movement and I am proud of what it has done. It is suffering now because of what we did wrong. I think this deology can never die. If you believe in secularism, harmony, ahimsa, you are already a Congressman.
DW: When you resigned from service, did anyone contact you from the government's side to convince you to stay?
Senthil: On the first day I tendered my resignation, my seniors and the chief minister tried to convince me. The government was very kind to me, it did not pressure me or made me feel bad in Karnataka. They don't relieve officers so easily. They have not relieved me or Kannan Gopinathan.
DW: Tomorrow if you are contesting elections, will you not face problems?
Senthil: Problems may come, but I will leave it to the government.
DW: What is your message to youngsters, especially those who want to take civil service exams like IPS and IAS?
Senthil: It is a complete lie that I quit service because of pressure. According to me, one of the best jobs in the country is civil service. No other job can give such complete satisfaction. So I encourage youngsters to aspire for it. Let them be part of the preparation. They will learn a lot of things. Secondly, to the youngsters, I will say, you are living in a very difficult time. Somebody worked for us and we sailed through. In this time you have to work for yourself and the society, and protect the society. There may be corruption and economic slowdown which can be corrected, but there should not be discord among communities in the society. Live peacefully and safely, and think of the society. Completely neglect these forces, they are not protecting any religion or opposing any religion, they just want votes. To gain votes there should be some logic - some try it with money and some others through hate.
DW: You have worked in Mangaluru for two years. What is your opinion of the people of Mangaluru and your message to them?
Senthil: Mangaluru has the best people, the best culture, and best nature. It is a well-endowed place. But there is a sphere of silence. People are afraid to speak out. When there is silence, it seems that what somebody is doing is right. Hence, my request to Mangalureans is that when you see a wrong happening, speak up. If you remain silent, your children and the next generation will have to bear the brunt. Very few are showing their communal front, but many are not communal. Only a handful of people are in the limelight and gaining political mileage out of it. So a cosmopolitan culture like Mangaluru has to suffer this. Tourism has completely collapsed. It says a lot about what we are developing into. Understand the idea of India. Protect this idea of India.
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