Historian Prof Irfan Habib has said that it is up to the Kerala police to take a decision on whether to register a case against him or not as demanded by the Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, for protesting against him while on the inaugural event of the 80th Indian History Congress hosted by the Kannur University in 2019.
A historian of ancient and mediaeval India, known for Marxist historiographical approach, Habib was responding to a set of questions mailed by TNM with regard to the allegations levelled by the Kerala Governor. Khan, whose tiff with the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government in Kerala, has reached a flash point, had alleged during a presser held at Raj Bhavan on September 19 that the police in Kerala failed to register a case under Section 124 of the IPC despite him requesting him to do so.
Khan said he felt intimidated and overawed by the actions of Prof Habib and as per Section 124, any person who attempts to overawe the President or the Governor shall be punished with imprisonment up to a period of seven years.
“The accusation is a total product of imagination. Considerable space separated me from the Governor throughout. There was no one on the dais who accompanied me while the Governor was surrounded by his staff,” Prof Habib said, denying the allegations.
Khan had screened two videos, one showing Habib trying to interrupt his speech on the dais and KK Ragesh, a former MP and CPI(M) leader trying to broker peace between protesting delegates and the police during the event as evidence for his claims.
“There was no conspiracy on the part of any section of members of the Indian History Congress. A spontaneous reaction occurred among delegates owing to the kind of derogatory statements Mr Arif Mohammad Khan had made against critics of the Citizenship legislation. There were only some placards hastily made on the spot against the Citizenship Act, and this was due solely to the provocation generated by Mr Khan’s speech,” said Prof Habib, answering a question on allegations of conspiracy to cause bodily harm levelled by Arif Mohammed Khan.
During the inaugural event “a spontaneous reaction occurred among delegates owing to the kind of derogatory statements Mr Arif Mohammad Khan had made against critics of the Citizenship legislation,” said Prof Habib. There were only some placards hastily made on the spot against the Citizenship Act, and this was due solely to the provocation generated by Mr Khan’s speech, he said.
Habib said he was present on the stage as the Vice-President of the Indian History Congress. “In that capacity I was called upon to speak on the resolution welcoming the General President Professor Amiya Kumar Bagchi. My speech barely lasted seven minutes, as per History Congress convention. I made no reference at all to the Citizenship Act, or to Mr Khan,” said Habib.
The Governor had alleged that Prof Habib spoke for 35 minutes when as per schedule it should have been just two or three minutes and alleged that the statements by him on the Citizenship Amendment Bill were made to intentionally provoke him so as to elicit a response.
On the allegations made against KK Ragesh, Prof Habib said the MP from Kannur after making a short speech of welcome had taken leave on account of some work. “So, he was not present on the stage when Mr Khan delivered his speech or thereafter. If the MP spoke to police or delegates, it must have happened much after he had left the stage. After Mr Khan himself left, the proceedings of the session of the Indian History Congress continued, including awards of prizes, release of the Proceedings volume, etc. I remained throughout this time on the dais,” he said.
Prof Habib, answering a question on Khan calling him a “goonda” on an earlier occasion said that he expects that a “level of decency ought to be maintained in our conversations.”
“I am really not competent to express any opinion on Mr Khan’s conduct as Governor. I would only refer to the editorials today (20 September) in Hindu and Indian Express,” Prof Habib said when asked for a response on the conduct of Arif Mohammed Khan as a Governor. He chose not to answer a question whether he felt the Governor was using him as a pawn to mount pressure on the CPI(M)-led state government in Kerala to have his way on issues related to universities and stop them from curtailing his powers.