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Why Kerala governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Pinarayi Vijayan are at loggerheads again

Khan’s tweet threatening to sack Kerala ministers for ‘lowering the dignity’ of the governor’s office has prompted the latest round of volleys in the festering tensions between the two sides

Kochi,UPDATED: Oct 23, 2022 03:33 AM IST

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan; (Photo: ANI)

By Jeemon Jacob: There has been fresh escalation in the festering tensions between Kerala governor Arif Mohammed Khan and the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF (Left Democratic Front) government. The provocation this time is Khan’s October 17 tweet in which he has threatened to sack ministers who ‘lower the dignity’ of the governor’s office. “The CM and Council of Ministers have every right to advise Governor. But statements of individual ministers that lower the dignity of the office of the Governor can invite action including withdrawal of pleasure,” Khan tweeted.

Two days later, Khan notified the removal of 15 members of the senate of Kerala University. The gazette notification was issued by him in his capacity as the chancellor of state-run universities in Kerala. This followed non-compliance of his order to the Kerala University vice-chancellor to remove the senate members.

The tussle between Khan and the Pinarayi government has been on since November last year when he resisted the reappointment of Dr Gopinath Ravindran as the vice-chancellor of Kannur University. Relations have gone downhill since then, with the governor asserting his constitutional authority and questioning the LDF government on various matters.

The ruling CPI(M) views the governor’s offensives as ‘politically motivated’ and has accused him of functioning in a way to please the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). The party has directed Pinarayi not to give in to the governor’s pressures.

Last month, Khan had called a press conference and fired a volley of allegations against the chief minister. To which Pinarayi had issued a strong rebuttal, saying: “Governor Khan must remember that he is occupying the highest office and should not stoop to the level of an ordinary RSS worker… He may have his own political opinion on issues and has shifted political parties at his convenience. But he should not become a mouthpiece of the Sangh while occupying the highest constitutional post in the state.”

A major sore point between the governor and the Pinarayi government has been the management of 13 state-run universities in Kerala. Khan had red-flagged the appointment of Priya Varghese, wife of Ragesh, as an assistant professor in the Malayalam department of Kannur University. It had all started with the reappointment of Ravindran—a CPI(M) loyalist—as Kannur University vice-chancellor. The bitterness intensified with Khan calling Ravindran a “criminal” who had plotted protests against him in 2019. This prompted the CPI(M) state secretariat to allege that Khan was reducing the governor’s office “to the level of an RSS shakha”.

Responding to the governor’s October 17 tweet, the CPI(M) politburo alleged that Khan’s bias and hostility towards the LDF government had demeaned his constitutional position. “The Constitution didn’t vest governors with dictatorial powers. The Kerala Raj Bhavan has challenged the very foundation of Indian democracy,” the CPI(M) politburo said in a statement.

CPI(M) state secretary M.V. Govindan Master too criticised Khan. ”Governors must realise that they have no unconstitutional authority while holding office. How can he (Khan) sack ministers who are appointed by the recommendation of the chief minister? Ignorance of the Constitution and functioning of democratic practices prompt a constitutional authority to make such claims,” Govindan Master told INDIA TODAY.

Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan deplored the governor’s remarks, saying: “The governor has no authority to dismiss ministers or withdraw ministers by his own choice of pleasure.”

However, Pinarayi remains unperturbed. “We deal with such situations as and when they arise. Some people may have hidden agendas to derail the development of the state. We are least bothered about their game plan,” he has said, without referring to the governor or his tweet.

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