Arif Mohammed Khan was appointed as the Governor of Kerala on September 5 last year, along with governors of four other states. A former Congress leader, he was the only non-BJP Governor in the new appointments.
Pleasant and vibrant, Arif Khan seemed to be at ease in his new job in the initial days. The days that followed proved just the opposite. Ever since the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed, there began an unprecedented spat between the Governor and the state Opposition as well as the ruling front.
Arif Khan called the CAA an extraordinary solution in the wake of minorities from neighbouring countries fleeing religious persecution.
Kerala, which witnessed a united protest with the two major rival political fronts coming together to oppose the CAA, was dismayed with the Governor’s statement. The state has been seeing unique, mass and vehement opposition to the Act from all community, social and political outfits, barring the pro-BJP ones.
The Governor’s statement came on December 19, and on December 21 he reiterated his backing for the CAA in a speech in New Delhi.
Soon, the Left and the Congress began attacking the Governor. In a swift response, the state Congress asked him not to attend a commemoration meeting for late leader and former Chief Minister K Karunakaran.
Youth Congress and Congress workers waved black flags at the Governor when he arrived for the History Congress in Kannur on December 28.
The Congress even said that the Governor had stooped to the level of a spokesperson for the BJP while CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asked Khan to return to politics.
On Thursday, K Muraleedharan, MP and son of K Karunakaran, went to the extent of saying that the Governor would not be able to walk on the streets if he doesn’t resign from the constitutional post and that if the Governor didn’t know how to maintain the dignity of the office, he could teach him.
Rifts in the past
While there have been run-ins between the Governor and political parties in Kerala, this is the first time that it has proved to be this extreme.
When Ram Dulari Sinha was the Governor (1988 to 1990), she had nominated members to the Calicut University syndicate from a list not submitted by the government. In power at that time was the LDF government headed by EK Nayanar.
A special motion was passed in the Legislative Assembly opposing the Governor as chancellor for acting out of the way. In order to ensure that the Governor did not address the Assembly, the government began the Assembly session in December and continued it till January as the Governor is not invited to address the Assembly during an ongoing session.
That Governor had to vacate the office soon and so the government managed to stop her from addressing the Assembly.
In 1998, again the during the tenure of EK Nayanar as CM, a controversy erupted when the Governor Sukhdev Singh Kang’s speech was sent without the approval of the cabinet, which was against protocol.
When RL Bhatia was the Governor, the then Agriculture Minister KR Gowri Amma (2001 to 2004) made a correction in the signed manual of a Bill, which shouldn’t be done. The Governor then returned the Bill without signing, which became a sensation.
In 2009, the then Governor RS Gavai gave the Central Bureau of Investigation the nod to prosecute Pinarayi Vijayan in the SNC Lavalin scam. Pinarayi was the CPI(M) state secretary at that time. The Governor’s move overruled the Kerala cabinet decision not to prosecute Pinarayi. The LDF headed by VS Achuthanandan was in power at that time.
Talking about the current spat, K Mohankumar, former deputy secretary of the Assembly, told TNM, “But this is the first time that an open fight, that too to this extent has happened between the Governor and the political parties. He has been flayed by most of the Congress leaders as well as by Left leaders except for the CM. There could be trouble at the next session of the Assembly, which begins on January 30, when the Governor has to address the Assembly. This would be an embarrassment for the ruling front as the Governor is an invited guest of the government to the Assembly.”
Governor-govt spat in Tripura and Tamil Nadu
Spats between the two constitutional authorities – Chief Ministers and Governors – is not new in the country. The former Chief Minister of Tripura, Manik Sarkar, had constantly been at loggerheads with the BJP government appointed Governor, Tathagata Roy. At one point, Sarkar had even refused to meet the Governor.
In the 1990s, Tamil Nadu had witnessed major showdowns between then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and Governor M Channa Reddy. Reports say the first instance of an altercation was when the government failed to inform the Governor immediately about a bomb blast at the RSS headquarters in Chetpet, Chennai, in August 1993.
The relationship deteriorated when the Governor asked the Chief Secretary to send him a report on the state law and order situation. There was major hostility between Jayalalithaa and Reddy, with the two cold shouldering each other at Republic Day Parades and boycotting events. At one point Jayalalithaa accused Reddy of using uncouth language towards her and the TN Assembly passed resolutions demanding the Governor’s recall, more than once.
However in Kerala, P Sathasivam, Arif Khan’s predecessor, again a nominee of the BJP-led Centre, had a cordial relationship with the Left government, though he sought explanation from the latter on multiple issues. While vacating office, Sathasivam had even backed the government’s stand of implementing the Supreme Court order allowing women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple.
It was a classic gesture from Sathasivam, who is also a former Chief Justice, to be candid on an issue over which the state witnessed great turmoil, ignoring his political affinity.