Thiruvananthapuram: Governor Arif Mohammed Khan is away on a nine-day multi-state lecture tour. But in the streets of Kerala’s capital, all you see this muggy Tuesday noon are likenesses of Raj Bhavan’s incumbent — in khaki shorts, trident in hand, trampling over and tearing a book, ostensibly the Constitution of India.
These images were seen on hoardings put up to accompany the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led ruling Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) protest march and dharna in front of Raj Bhavan. And as the two arms of the march, from the Museum and Nandavanam areas, coalesced at the designated dharna site, a galaxy of leaders from parties including the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in neighbouring Tamil Nadu and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), turned it into an opposition show of strength against the very institution of governors.
However, conspicuous by their absence were Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his ministers. Vijayan has been in a relentless war of words with Khan since his appointment in 2019 — with a brief respite during the pandemic — but matters seem to have reached a head in the past few weeks over Khan’s insistence on the resignation of 11 vice-chancellors of various universities in Kerala.
Addressing the crowd, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury framed the debate around the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its agenda of “mind control”.
“Kerala’s education system is lauded both globally and in India, because the LDF government wants Kerala youth to become leaders in a knowledge society….this is exactly the opposite of what the RSS wants. They want backward, obscurantist thoughts, mind control, they want blind faith and superstition to rule. That is why they are using constitutional offices to destroy higher education in Kerala.”
There’s a need for states facing the same sort of “interference” from governors to come together and oppose this, Yechury added.
DMK Rajya Sabha MP Tiruchi Siva, in his speech in Tamil, went a step further and said that states should come together and ask the Union government to abolish the office of governor.
“The Constitution has to be revisited to strengthen its basic features, and recent experience should be taken into account to make necessary amendments. Whether a governor is to be elected or nominated — there was a debate even in the Constituent Assembly. (But) the situation and experience say we don’t want a governor at all. States should come together and push for abolition of that office and more autonomy to all states,“ he said.
Siva said the post of governor wasn’t an elected one, and yet elected governments were facing problems because of them. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK is at loggerheads with governor R.N. Ravi on various issues, resulting in a running battle between the two sides.
V-C issue still in court
The matter of the vice-chancellors is still being heard in court, but the LDF is no longer holding back. Placards at the march and the dharna accused the governor of doing the RSS’s bidding. “Chancellor, don’t stoop like a Sanghi,” read one.
The posters for the march read: “Against the anti-democratic stand of the Kerala governor, to protect Kerala higher education from the Sangh Parivar, against saffronisation, one lakh people will march.”
It’s in his capacity as chancellor of the state universities that Khan is seeking the removal of the V-Cs. But Yechury in his speech pointed out that the governor’s designation as chancellor isn’t ex officio (by virtue of his office). “It is so because an act passed by the state assembly mandates that,” he said.
Last week, the state government removed the governor as chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam, the deemed-to-be-university for performing arts, and then issued an ordinance — now with Raj Bhavan — to also remove him as chancellor of the 14 state universities.
On the removal of the vice-chancellors, Khan’s contention has been that their appointments were never valid as only a single name was recommended to him each time, rather than a panel of names as required under the University Grants Commission’s guidelines. This follows a Supreme Court order that set aside the appointment of one of the concerned V-Cs on these grounds.
Adding further grist to the mill, a division bench of the Kerala High Court has now quashed the appointment of Dr K. Riji John as vice-chancellor of the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies. John is another one of the V-Cs who were asked to resign by Khan.
Sources in the state government have told ThePrint that an opinion from the advocate general is awaited before deciding the next course of action in the matter.
“Dr Rajasree, whose appointment at the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University was quashed entirely on technical grounds and not on competence, has now filed a review petition. We are closely watching that. We have also sought the opinion of the advocate general,” said a top official in the government.
(Edited by V S Chandrasekar)