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Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022

Kerala governor, Pinarayi govt & the chasm in between: A litany of complaints

From protests at the Indian History Congress to the goings-on at Kannur University, the Left government and Raj Bhavan have been at loggerheads since Arif Mohammad Khan assumed office in 2019.

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan (Left) and CM Pinarayi Vijayan. (PTI/File)

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan assumed office in September 2019 and since then he has locked horns with the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by Pinarayi Vijayan over several issues. The fractious relationship between the two sides worsened on Monday as the governor levelled allegations against Vijayan and his private secretary KK Ragesh, who is a CPI(M) leader and a former Rajya Sabha MP.

A look at all the instances of the two sides wrangling with each other:

Protests at Indian History Congress & CAA

Khan’s conflict with the LDF government began at the Indian History Congress venue in Kannur on December 28, 2019. Days earlier, the governor backed the amended Citizenship Act and said it fulfilled a promise Gandhi and Nehru had made to non-Muslims left in Pakistan after Partition. Delegates at the History Congress raised slogans against him. Khan then accused eminent historian Irfan Habib of “disrupting” his address.

On Monday, the governor again raked up the issue by pinning the blame for the protests on Ragesh, who was a Rajya Sabha MP at the time. Releasing visuals of the incident, Khan alleged that Ragesh had been appointed the CM’s private secretary as a reward for the role he played that day.

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On the CAA issue, Khan locked horns with the government on January 2, 2020, after the Assembly passed a resolution demanding that the Citizenship Amendment Act be revoked. The governor said the resolution had no constitutional or legal validity as matters of citizenship are the domain of the Centre.

Vijayan took a dig at the governor a few days later, saying no one in Kerala was above the state Assembly. When the state government approached the Supreme Court to demand that the law be scrapped, Khan summoned the chief secretary and sought an explanation.

That year, on January 29, the governor spoke of his disagreement with the government’s view on CAA that was mentioned in his address to the Assembly for the Budget session. Reading out the paragraph he had objections to, Khan told the House, “The chief minister himself said in his letter this is the view of the government. I disagree, but to honour his wish I am going to read this paragraph.”

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Special Assembly session on farm laws

The three central farm laws, now repealed, that the Centre pushed through Parliament in 2020 proved to be another cause of rift between the two sides. The laws gave rise to protests by farmers that went on for a year. In December 2020, about a month into the protests, the governor turned down the Cabinet’s recommendation to convene the Assembly to debate the farm laws.

Khan gave in after the Cabinet made another appeal and a delegation of Cabinet ministers visited him at Raj Bhavan. In January 2021, Khan, in his policy address to the Assembly, adopted a stand against the farm laws, the labour code, and central agencies investigating the gold smuggling case. Referring to the Citizenship Amendment Act, the governor said the state government was committed to defending secular values.

Battleground: Kannur University

The latest round of fight between the two sides began with the reappointment of Dr Gopinath Ravindran as the Vice-Chancellor (V-C) of Kannur University on November 23, 2021. Khan initially tweeted about the reappointment, saying it adhered to “the Kannur University Act and UGC regulations 2018”. The announcement of Ravindran continuing as V-C came close on the heels of the appointment of Ragesh’s wife Dr Priya Varghese as an associate professor in the university’s Malayalam Department.

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Days later, the governor publicly opposed the V-C’s reappointment, saying that it was illegal. Though Khan went along with the decision, he expressed a desire to quit as the chancellor of state universities. He claimed on Monday that Vijayan, in a letter at the time, urged him not to step down as chancellor and promised that the academic autonomy of universities would be protected.

Last month, Khan stayed Dr Varghese’s appointment over alleged violation of norms and favouritism. He also issued a show-cause notice to Ravindran. Khan on Monday accused Vijayan of intervening to seek Dr Ravindran’s reappointment.

DLitt controversy

This January, the governor hit out at the Vijayan government over Kerala University V-C VP Mahadevan Pillai’s reluctance to consider his recommendation to confer an honorary DLitt on then President Ram Nath Kovind. Instead of presenting Khan’s recommendation to the university’s Syndicate, the V-C spoke to a few Syndicate members and turned down the proposal. “Someone seems to have given him (Pillai) instructions,” said an infuriated Khan.

Renewal of ordinances

In August 2022, Khan refused to give consent to renewing 11 ordinances that the LDF government had issued. The list included an ordinance amending the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act of 1999, which was envisaged to curb the power of the anti-corruption body. When the Lok Ayukta Ordinance was issued in February, Khan gave his assent following a meeting with the CM. However, in August he refused to give consent for its renewal saying that he was against ordinance raj. Hence, last month, all the lapsed ordinances, including the one amending the Lok Ayukta Act, were presented in the Assembly as Bills and passed. Khan has said he will not give consent for the Lok Ayukta Bill.

University Laws (Amendment) Bill

The Bill to amend University Laws that the House passed last month gives the government an upper hand in the selection of V-Cs. The committee will have five members, instead of existing three, and the government side will have three nominees. The government introduced the Bill in a hurry in the Assembly at a time Khan used to frequently lock horns with the goverment on university matters. The Bill is awaiting the governor’s nod but he has repeatedly said he will not do anything to dilute the autonomy of universities.

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Budget session address

On the eve of the Assembly’s Budget session in February, Khan refused to give the government consent regarding his opening address to the House. The governor was upset over a dissent note that the general administration department’s principal secretary KR Jyothilal had written to the Raj Bhavan on the appointment of a BJP leader as his additional personal assistant.

A crisis was averted when the government moved out Jyothilal, but the IAS officer was reinstated in April.

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Pension for ministerial staff

The LDF government’s initial reluctance on the matter of the appointment of Khan’s additional personal assistant provoked the governor to speak out against the practice of paying pensions to the personal staff of ministers. The governor alleged that most staff members were Left workers. As per existing norms, a personal staff member who completes more than two years of service is eligible to receive pension.

First published on: 20-09-2022 at 09:10:29 am
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