Amid differences with CM Vijayan, Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has threatened not to sign two bills awaiting his nod.
NEW DELHI: Even as Kerala battles with stray dogs that rule the streets, the state governor and the chief minister are engaged in a political dog fight that may lead the state into a constitutional crisis. Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan have been blowing hot and cold for quite some time. But this time, the differences seem to have gone beyond reconciliation with Khan holding an elaborate two-hour press conference at the Raj Bhavan at the end of which he threatened not to sign two crucial bills—the University Laws (Amendment) Act, 2022, and the Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Act, 2022—awaiting his nod.
“I will not allow the government to infringe on the autonomy of universities. I will not let the political executive sit in judgement of its own case. The legislation seeks to vest the government with the overriding appellate authority to circumvent any adverse and incriminating declaration by the Lok Ayukta, the constitutional anti-corruption watchdog. Such a law runs against the grain of natural justice and jurisprudence,” Khan said.
As per the procedure, once the bills reach before him, the governor will assess whether they are legal and constitutional. He also has the power to seek explanations or send them back to the government. He can even forward them to the President via the Central government for approval. But it was inappropriate on the part of the governor to call a press conference and say he would not sign the bills adopted by the Assembly of elected members and forwarded by the government, of which he is technically presiding over.
Pinarayi Vijayan, on his part, has accused the governor of acting at the behest of the RSS, citing Khan’s recent meeting with “Sarsanghchalak” Mohan Bhagwat in Thrissur, and plotting to destabilise a democratically elected government. Using harsh words at a press conference called to counter the governor’s charges, Vijayan said it was a grave matter that the governor had converted the Raj Bhavan into a “den of conspiracy”. Pinarayi even gave a hint that Khan was acting like he was an “agent” and “employee” of the RSS.
Though the governor did not come out with any startling revelations at his press conference as was promised, Arif Mohammad Khan did succeed in raking up a three-year-old incident to hit at his “own government”. This has also something to do with appointment of vice-chancellors that has been a bone of contention. At his press meet, Khan played out videos of the 2019 Indian History Congress (IHC) meeting held at the Kannur University where a section of the crowd had raised slogans against the governor who had tried to justify the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Historian Irfan Habib could be seen in the video trying to interrupt the governor.
Citing Section 124 of the IPC where any attempt to overawe, intimidate or prevent the President or Governor from discharging his/her duties was a cognisable offence inviting imprisonment, Khan wanted to know why no police action was taken against the protesters or Irfan Habib. Khan also said that the then Rajya Sabha MP and now political secretary to the chief minister K.K. Ragesh could be seen preventing the police from rounding up the protesters.
Incidentally, the appointment of Ragesh’s wife as faculty in Kannur varsity’s Malayalam department allegedly by flouting norms and overlooking more eligible candidates with the tacit approval of the government has become a major political scandal in the state which has now reached the courts. The governor too had alleged the chief minister’s complicity in Ragesh’s wife’s appointment.
But the moot question is why the governor took so long to raise the issue, though some months ago Khan had called the Kannur University vice-chancellor Gopinath Ravindran a “criminal” and Irfan Habib a “street goonda”. Now the governor says that he did raise the issue with the vice-chancellor at whose invitation the governor had agreed to inaugurate the IHC meet and sought a report from him on the incident. According to Khan, Ravindran replied that “he was not a security expert and could not comment on such matters”.
Again the question remains as to why the governor did not bring it to the notice of the President considering the gravity of the incident. It is understandable that the governor questioned the Left Front government decision to scrap the punitive powers of the Lok Ayukta or amending the university laws to suit the needs of the ruling dispensation. Appointment of the spouses of at least half a dozen young CPM leaders is under public glare with charges of nepotism and wrong doing on the part of universities. While the government talks of autonomy of universities, party functionaries, including ministers, have lined up to defend those very same appointments which the opposition and independent bodies such as Save University Forum content are done in fraudulent ways.
But what is not understandable is the way governor Arif Mohammad Khan goes on attacking the government for following an “alien” ideology or charging the CPM with promoting violence. These are not the ideal subjects a governor must be talking about. It must be noted that part of the blame for the current crisis lies with the chief minister too. Instead of answering the governor’s charges, Pinarayi Vijayan has chosen to question Arif Mohammad Khan’s ulterior motives. Even governor Khan’s criticism of Irfan Habib has been attributed to the governor’s ideological leanings towards the Sangh Parivar.
“The Sangh Parivar has been trying to rewrite medieval history with the clear intention of marginalising and demonising the minorities. Irfan Habib has opposed this using rigorous historical research,” Pinarayi Vijayan said. As for universities, Vijayan said attempts are being made to convert them into “laboratories to twist and contort history”.
“In Rajasthan, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, there are attempts to use governors to foist vice-chancellors with Sangh Parivar credentials,” Vijayn said. Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan have stripped the governor of chancellor duties. The governors in both these states have yet to give their assent to these bills. In this context, Vijayan’s accusation of Raj Bhavan being turned into “den of conspiracy” is largely meant to the cadre rather than the general public who are still waiting for a clear answer from the government on irregularities taking place in universities under Left rule.
With the governor set to leave for Delhi for a fortnight, temporary truce may prevail, though the fate of the bills hangs in the balance. However, it is still unclear as to why and for what purpose the governor and the chief minister are indulging in a mud-slinging match.