The Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan is at loggerheads with the ruling Left Front government once again. Or it is the other way round. The simple fact is that Arif Khan on Tuesday denied permission to hold a special one-day session of the state Assembly for passing a resolution against the new farm laws introduced by the Centre. The session was supposed to be held on 23 December and the Left Front government had made a formal request to the Governor about it on Monday. The special session was planned for one hour and only the party leaders representing various political parties were supposed to speak and at the end a resolution opposing the new farm laws was supposed to be passed. This has the support of the opposition Congress-led United Front too. The BJP has only a lone member in the 140-member House. Incidentally, Kerala had on 31 December 2019 passed a resolution against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which had sparked nationwide protests before Covid-19 struck.
Instead of obliging the government, Arif Khan had in a letter to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday wanted to know why the Assembly had to be convened at such a short notice as the House was scheduled to meet on 8 January 2021 for the Budget session. The state government suspecting that the Governor was trying to stall the move, grudgingly gave reasons as its concern over the ongoing farmers’ agitation in Delhi and the government intent to declare solidarity with them. The Governor was not convinced. He wondered why such urgency when the farmers were on the path of agitation in Delhi and surrounding states from last June. Moreover, he felt that farmers in the state were not protesting against the new laws. The state government had no option but to cancel the proposed session.
The political tug of war started from there. Following the refusal, Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to the Governor that his (Governor’s) action was against the Constitution, against subsection 17(1). The Governor has no discretionary power to convene or to adjourn the Assembly session, the CM wrote. “The argusment that there is no urgency is wrong. It has been in the past days that the farmers’ protest in various parts of the country developed into this magnitude. Both the President and the Governor should act as per the advice of the Cabinet. The Sarkaria Commission has underlined that the Governor is bound to obey when a government that has majority in the House recommends when to hold or adjourn a session,” Pinarayi wrote.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said they should forget the Governor’s permission and instead convene in the Assembly lounge and pass the resolution. The Congress even accused the Left government with subjugation to the Centre. Congress in the state had always maintained that Pinarayi Vijayan has some “understanding” with Prime Minister Modi and cites repeated delaying tactics adopted by the CBI in the Lavlin case against the Chief Minister in the Supreme Court.
However, a lot of political mud is being thrown at the Governor right now. Janayugom, mouthpiece of the second largest party in the LDF, in a hard-hitting editorial has accused Arif Khan of being an “RSS man”. “A person who sought power from many parties including the Congress ended up joining the Sangh Parivar and thus became the Governor. The RSS appointed him in a secular state like Kerala in order to implement its agenda easily,” the editorial said. It went on to say that if the Governor refuses permission to convene a special session of the Assembly on 31 December, “then Kerala will take a unanimous decision to oust him from the state”.
On Friday afternoon, the government had dispatched two of its ministers to the Governor with a fresh request seeking his permission to convene the session on the last day of the year. Interestingly, one of the emissaries, Law Minister and a trusted comrade of Vijayan, A.K. Balan was spitting fire on the Governor. So, by afternoon it was amusing to see him carrying a cake and calling on the Governor on Christmas Day. Perhaps the Left Front hopes to end an otherwise dismal 2020 on a promising note.
It is not yet known whether the Governor would relent. On Thursday, Arif Khan was definitely in no mood to oblige. In fact, he was furious with the government. He has reason to be so. Even before he could open the “highly confidential” letter from Pinarayi giving him explanations regarding the need for a special session, television channels, especially Kairali channel controlled by CPM, were highlighting the contents of the letter. While making his displeasure obvious, the Governor made it clear that nothing has been done unconstitutionally. “I have not done what the government alleges. It was not a statutory request from the government for a special meeting,” the Governor wrote. Taking a leaf out of Bhagavad Gita, Arif Khan reminded Pinarayi Vijayan that: “It is far better to perform one’s natural prescribed duty, though tinged with faults, than to perform another’s prescribed duty, though perfectly.” The Governor further insisted that the government has not responded convincingly on the urgency of the situation and said: “It is preferable to die in the discharge of one’s duty than to follow the path of another.”
This is not the first time the Governor is clashing with the Left government. When the state Assembly adopted the resolution against the CAA, the Governor had threatened not to read out the policy statement of the government on the opening day of the Budget session on 28 January 2020. However, the Governor chose to read out the state government’s stand against the CAA in his policy address, but clarified that though he did not agree with the view he was reading it out on “personal request from the Chief Minister”.
“I will read out the paragraph because the chief minister wants me to read it although I hold the view that this doesn’t come under the definition of policy or programme. The chief minister himself has said this is the view of the government…to honour his wish, I am going to read it,” Khan had said amid applause from the treasury benches.
Then, too, the Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front was quick to allege a secret pact between the Governor and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. And if Arif Khan agrees to the 31 December session, the Congress is sure to see an “underhand deal” between the Marxist Chief Minister and Prime Minister Modi. The Governor, of course, will remain the intermediary, differences or not.