The appointment of social activist and noted dancer Mallika Sarabhai as the Chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam, a deemed-to-be university set up for the preservation and promotion of the traditional performing arts of the state, is a significant, multi-layered political statement by the ruling CPI(M).
Sarabhai’s appointment came on the day the CPI(M)-led Left Front government presented a Bill in the state Assembly to remove the Governor as the Chancellor of all universities in the state. The move stemmed from the Left Front government’s long-drawn-out tussle with Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on administration and appointments at universities. Last month, the government, through an order, had removed the Governor as the Chancellor of Kalamandalam. No legislative route was required to remove Khan as ex-officio Chancellor of Kalamandalam, as the Governor had been made its Chancellor through an executive order in 2015.
Sarabhai’s appointment would help the government blunt the allegation of the opposition Congress for the time being that CPI(M) wanted to fill the slots of chancellors with Communists, once the Governor was removed from the position. On Wednesday, while the Assembly debated about the bill to divest the Governor of the role of Chancellor of 14 universities, the government had countered the allegation of politicising the appointments at universities by highlighting Sarabhai’s selection.
Referring to Sarabhai’s appointment, higher education minister Prof R Bindu wrote on Facebook, “The state government stands for a higher education which is led by the most talented. The state had appointed experts from various fields at the helm of the universities. For next five years, Sarabhai would remain as the most auspicious lamp of such a decision. She is a brilliant genius dedicated to art as well as secular values,’’ said the minister.
Sarabhai has been a strong critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his days in Gujarat as the chief minister of that state. She had taken up the cause of the Gujarat riot victims in various forums. She had come out against the court order, giving a clean chit to Modi and others in the Gujarat riots. In the 2009 LS elections, she contested as an Independent against BJP veteran L K Advani. In 2016, when her mother and noted danseuse Mrinalini Sarabhai died, Mallika had hit out against Modi, saying that he had not paid tributes to her mother. “However much you hate me, as our prime minister it behoves you to recognise her contribution. You have not. Shame on you,’’ she had then written on Facebook.
By selecting Sarabhai, a person known as a critic of Modi, the CPI(M) hopes to weave its commitment to fight against Sangh Parivar and its stand for secular values, with its fight against the Governor.
The Congress has not reacted against Sarabhai’s selection as the party has realised that any criticism of the Left decision runs the risk of being branded pro-Hindutva.
Senior BJP leader from Kerala and Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan had slammed the selection of Sarabhai as the chancellor. “Her only eligibility to become the Chancellor is that she indulges in a malicious and baseless campaign against Modi. There are many artists and professionals in the country. But, Chief Minister Vijayan wanted a person who dances to his tunes,’’ he said.
Sarabhai also has Kerala roots. Her mother Mrinalini was born to a Tamil Brahmin father and Hindu Nair mother in Kerala’s Palakkad. Her father Vikram Sarabhai is considered the father of the Indian space programme.