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Governor vs government in Kerala: Here’s what has triggered a political storm in the state

Amid all hue and cry, Governor Khan maintains that he doesn’t want to hold the post of Chancellor if the government will keep interfering.

Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP KC Venugopal today wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind over an ongoing tussle between the Governor and the Government of Kerala and accused Governor Arif Mohammad Khan of dragging the President’s office into political disputes. “A concerted attempt to lower the constitutional dignity of the post of Rashtrapati ji was kicked off by unwarranted statements and vested interests of Hon’ble Governor and the Government of Kerala, perversely dragging the constitutional office of your highness,” he said.

Venugopal also accused the Kerala governor of crossing the ‘Laxman rekha’ of self-restraint and using the office to square political accounts.

What is the row about?
Over the past two months, there has been a continuing war of words between the state governor and the government. There were three issues which irked Governor Arif Mohammed to publicly express his displeasure with the government. The governor had accused the Kerala government of making political appointments in universities. In November, Kerala higher education minister R Bindu requested the governor to reappoint Kannur University V-C Gopinath Ravindran for one more term of four years. While the Kannur University Act fixes the age limit of under 60 for the appointment of the V-C, Ravindran is 61-years-old. The governor had then sought clarification on the appointment.

Another face-off happened when the Kerala government amended the University Act, thus, taking away the powers of the chancellor (governor) to appoint the University Appellate Tribunal without consulting the high court. The state government also wanted the governor to appoint his nominee in the Vice Chancellors Search Committee as per suggestions of the government but Khan did not agree.

Another issue was mentioned by Venugopal in his letter. “It is reported that Hon’ble Governor of Kerala, in his capacity as the Chancellor off the University, had issued a directive to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kerala to confer D.Litt on the Hon’ble President. As per the reports, violating the statute of the University, the Vice-chancellor instead of convening a syndicate meeting to decide on the matter, informed the Governor that the University Syndicate had turned down the proposal,” detailed Venugopal in his letter. The governor had later summoned the VC and had asked him to give a written clarification on the matter. The hand-written letter was leaked in public allegedly by the governor’s office. It also came to the light that the VC had discussed the matter only with some syndicate members and had not convened the meeting, violating the rule.

However, Khan had denied the charges. He termed the statement irresponsible and ignorant that he recommended conferring of Kerala University’s honorary D Litt on President Ram Nath Kovind. Governor Arif Mohammed Khan said he was seeing a disturbing trend that impinges national institutions, dignity and prestige.

“I, as Chancellor, directed VC to convene a meeting of the syndicate but he did not convene the meeting. He is defying the Chancellor. So I thought instead of confrontation, I would write to government to appoint someone else as the Chancellor…Since I’ve written, I’ve received three letters from the chief minister, and in each letter, he said that government has no intention to interfere. I want to give them time to decide whether they want me to continue or not. If not, then they can bring an ordinance,” said Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan today.

Governor Khan had reportedly also received complaints from the Save University Campaign Committee which called upon him to ensure transparency in appointments in universities. The campaign is run by Socialist Unity Centre of India leader M. Shajar Khan and former Kerala University Syndicate member R.S. Sasikumar.

Amid all hue and cry, Governor Khan maintains that he doesn’t want to hold the post of Chancellor if the government will keep interfering. “I can’t continue as a chancellor at the cost of compromising with the dignity of national institutions. Either there should be a clear cut assurance of no interference in the affairs of the university or they take over the chancellorship,” Governor Khan said last week.

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