Come September, Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi will complete two years in office. Since Mr. Ravi was appointed as the Governor, the M.K. Stalin-led State government’s relations with Raj Bhavan have been fraught , coming to a head multiple times.
The leader of the ruling coalition, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), has historically questioned the role of Governors and advocated federalism. DMK founder C.N. Annadurai likened the Governor’s role to a goat’s beard, saying both were unnecessary. The dismissal of the M. Karunanidhi government on the recommendations of Governor K. K. Shah during the Emergency further hardened the DMK’s stand.
Current Governor Mr. Ravi also faced multiple calls from the government to step down from his post, having his fair share of impasses with them. The latest disagreement between the two parties relates to Mr. Ravi’s decision to ‘dismiss’ arrested Minister V. Senthilbalaji from the cabinet on June 29, only to hurriedly backtrack on his decision in a few hours. That decision has now been kept in abeyance.
Here’s a look at the multiple instances of friction between the DMK-led state government and the Governor since his appointment in 2021.
Allies question appointment
Mr. Ravi was appointed the Governor of Tamil Nadu on September 18, 2021, having been transferred from Nagaland.
In Tamil Nadu, while Chief Minister M.K. Stalin and the DMK initially welcomed Mr. Ravi’s appointment, coalition allies viewed it with suspicion. Congress Committee president K.S. Alagiri questioned the motive behind appointing R.N. Ravi, a retired IPS officer, as the next Governor of Tamil Nadu.
“In States ruled by parties in the Opposition (non-NDA parties), the Centre has been appointing Governors who are causing hindrances to the ruling State government. For instance, former IPS officer Kiran Bedi, after being appointed as Lt. Governor of Puducherry, had created many roadblocks to the then Congress government and welfare schemes could not be implemented. She was removed from the post after protest,” he said in a statement.
“The DMK government is functioning in a transparent manner. Whether the Modi government has appointed Mr. Ravi to cause hindrance to the State government is my main suspicion,” he said.
Interference with government departments
Within a month into the governorship, DMK allies expressed concerns over Mr. Ravi’s interference with day-to-day governance matters. Mr. Alagiri and State Minorities Commission Chairman Peter Alphonse came down on Mr. Ravi for seeking details on the functioning of various departments.
“It is shocking. The Governor has no right to seek any such details. He has been appointed by the President of the country and not elected by the people,” Mr. Alagiri said. The Chief Minister secured votes and assumed office after being elected by the MLAs of his party. “Only he has the right and responsibility to implement welfare schemes. The Governor’s intervention is motivated and against the Constitution,” he said.
The leaders, including Mr. Alphonse, accused Mr. Ravi of running a parallel government in the State. VCK founder Thol. Thirumavalavan objected to Governor Ravi “seeking reports from State government departments,” and said this was an attempt to interfere with the State’s rights.
NEET bill saga
One of the most long-running standoffs between Mr. Ravi and the state government began in November 2021.
The Legislative Assembly passed the Tamil Nadu Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Bill, 2021, on September 13, seeking to do away with the requirement for candidates in the State to qualify the NEET, instead wishing to admit students to undergraduate medical courses on the basis on Class XII board exam marks. The Bill was subsequently sent to the Raj Bhavani towards the end of the gubernatorial tenure of Banwarilal Purohit, Mr. Ravi’s predecessor.
Mr. Stalin, in November 2021, called on Mr. Ravi at the Raj Bhavan and urged him to send this Bill to the President of India immediately for his assent.
The Bill was tabled in the Assembly after a high-level committee headed by retired High Court judge, Justice A.K. Rajan said in the report that NEET ‘clearly undermined’ the diverse social representation in MBBS and higher medical studies favouring mainly the affluent sections of society, and that if the examination continued for a few more years, the healthcare system of Tamil Nadu would be very badly affected. Two similar legislationspassed by the Assembly during the previous AIADMK rule did not get the President’s assent.
In December 2021, the Governor’s office announced that Bill was still under consideration. In January last year, the matter reached the Home Ministry when a delegation of all-party MPs from the State met Home Minister Amit Shah, urging him to direct Mr. Ravi to forward the NEET Bill to the President. The next month the Governor returned the NEET Bill to the Assembly Speaker saying, it was not in the interest of the State’s students. While returning the Bill, the Governor termed the report of the high-level committee headed by retired Justice A.K. Rajan as merely reflecting a “jaundiced view” about the Bill.
A little over a week later, an agitated DMK re-adopted the same Bill, a first-of-its-kind move in the history of the Assembly. The re-adopted Bill too faced a similar fate, sitting in the Raj Bhavan for months. Ahead of the Assembly’s Budget session in March 2022, the Chief Minister called on Mr. Ravi, reiterating his request to send the Bill to the President at the earliest. Simultaneously, the Chief Minister referred to other Bills and files “pending for several months” and pointed out that “by taking action on them, the honour of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly could be protected.”
Despite giving an assurance in March, the Governor had not forwarded the Bill even in April, which is when Mr. Stalin and his Council of Ministers boycotted the Governor’s ‘at-home reception’ at the Raj Bhavan, opposing the delay.
It was finally in May 2022, three months after the Bill was re-adopted, that the Governor forwarded it.
Calls for resignation begin
Calls for Mr. Ravi to step down for his post began as early as January 2022, about four months after he took office. DMK Parliamentary party leader T.R. Baalu demanded the governor’s resignation for not forwarding the first version of the NEET exemption Bill.
In November last year, Parliament members of the DMK-led coalition submitted a Memorandum to the President to remove Mr. Ravi as Tamil Nadu Governor. “We must place on record our dissatisfaction that the work being done by the Tamil Nadu Government and the Legislature is being obturated by the office of the Governor by openly contradicting its policy in public and unduly delaying assent to Bills,” the memorandum said.
It flagged the delay in granting assent to 20 Bills passed by the State Assembly including the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Bill, and the Tamil Nadu Universities Laws (Amendment) Bill 2022, which empowers the State Government to appoint the Vice-Chancellors of the State Universities under the administrative control of the Higher Education Department.
Comments on the secular nature of the State government and Dravidian culture
Mr. Ravi raked up controversy in April 2022 by saying that the present ideology and “perverse” politics have restricted the classic Tamil text Thirukural to a book of ethics and morality and not dharma and spirituality. The governor made these remarks in Coimbatore, when inaugurating the International Thirukural Conference 2022. “In the thousand years or so since Thiruvalluvar had authored Thirukural, several ideologies have come and gone. Therefore, political correctness or the present ideology should not limit what the book has to offer,” he said.
In June 2022, the DMK condemned Mr. Ravi‘s comments on Santana Dharma and said they were in contravention of the Constitution and against 90% of India’s population. In a statement, DMK treasurer and MP T.R. Baalu said the Governor had said it was “Sanatana Dharma which had built this Bharat [India]” and spoken about Americans bombing Kandahar and Peshawar. “These statements are not good for the constitutional position he holds,” Mr. Baalu said.
“A person who should propagate secular principles is acting in favour of a particular community and making comments against other communities and is, in fact, instigating violence against them in a public forum,” he said.
Subsequently, in July 2022,Mr. Ravi drew criticism for saying the concept of Aryans and Dravidians was mainly a geographical, rather than racial, division but the British made it racial to suit their needs. In October, Mr. Ravi brought up the Thirukural once again, calling it an epic book holding the essence of “Bharatiya spirituality.” DMK-allied coalition leaders responded by saying that the Governor was working in tandem with right-wing organisations propagating Hindutva.
Subsequently, in a joint Memorandum, MPs of the State’s ruling Secular Progressive Alliance, flagged the Governor’s “unfortunate propensity to publicly profess his lack of faith in the secular ideals of this country.”
Two language policy
In his Republic Day address, Mr. Ravi subtly pushed for a three-language policy. “While it is important that [the] Tamil language is given wider spread in the rest of the country, it is also important that our school students learn other Indian languages like students in other States. Depriving our students of knowledge of other Indian languages is unfair to all,” he said. This came as a surprise since in Tamil Nadu, any attempt to tinker with the time-tested two-language formula is akin to treading on a landmine. As recently as June 2019, a clause recommending mandatory Hindi teaching in schools was dropped from the Draft National Education Policy (NEP) following a backlash, primarily from Tamil Nadu.
The State government’s first counter to Mr. Ravi was diplomatic and through official channels. The Minister for Tamil Official Language and Culture, Thangam Thennarasu, responded, “Those who are aware of the history of protests for language in Tamil Nadu would realise that ‘other Indian languages’ is only another terminology for pushing Hindi.” He argued that the two-language policy has not prevented students from acquiring educational qualifications or holding major positions.
However, this was followed by a sharp attack in the DMK’s mouthpiece, Murasoli, which also questioned Mr. Ravi’s performance in his previous gubernatorial assignment in Nagaland.
Tussle over appointment of VCs in State universities
The Assembly adopted two Bills that seek to empower the government to appoint VCs to 13 State universities under the aegis of the Higher Education Department by amending the respective Acts. The AIADMK and the BJP opposed the Bill, with the latter staging a walkout.
“During the past four years, there has been a trend in which the Governor, without consulting the State government, is functioning as if he has the exclusive right over appointing VCs,” Mr. Stalin contended, saying that this affected its administration.
In an unprecedented face-off, Mr. Ravi abruptly walked out of the Assembly as Mr. Stalin disapproved of his selective deviation from the approved text of the Governor’s address to the House and moved a resolution to take on record only the transcript distributed to the members.
Trouble began in the first Assembly session of the new tear after Mr. Ravi skipped a paragraph containing references to certain national and regional stalwarts including Dravidar Kazhagam founder Periyar, father of the Indian Constitution B. R. Ambedkar, former Chief Ministers K. Kamaraj and C. N. Annadurai, and the term “Dravidian model of governance.”
Objecting to Mr. Ravi’s action, soon after Speaker M. Appavu read out the Tamil translation of the Governor’s tabled address, Mr. Stalin moved a resolution to retain on the Assembly records only the printed and approved speech copy that was presented to the members of the House earlier. He urged that portions “inserted” or “omitted” by the Governor in his oral address should not be part of the records.
The Governor, who is not conversant in Tamil, was seen asking his secretary what the Chief Minister was saying in the House. Upon learning that the House was about to move the resolution, a visibly agitated Mr. Ravi paced out of the Assembly Hall without waiting for the proceedings to conclude.
The ‘Tamizhagam’ controversy
Governor Ravi’s remark in January that he preferred the name ‘Tamizhagam’ for the State sparked controversy, with political leaders across party lines condemning his speech and recalling the struggle to rename Madras State as Tamil Nadu.
While these parties are not averse to the word ‘Tamizhagam’, what- seemingly irked them is the perceptible dislike expressed for the name Tamil Nadu. ‘Periyar’ E.V. Ramasamy used this name as early as in 1938. On multiple occasions, he made remarks suggesting that Tamizhagam would the appropriate name for the state, while using both Tamizhagam and Tamil Nadu on different occasions. The word “Nadu” translates to land, country or nation-state. On the other hand, the word “Tamizhagam” signifies a region that is inhabited by Tamils.
DMK’s allies argued that the Governor was speaking the language of BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and promoting the Hindutva ideology, being unaware of the struggle that took place to rename the Madras Presidency as Tamil Nadu.
The online gambling Bill
This Governor initially promulgated an ordinance. The ordinance, cleared at a Cabinet meeting on September 26, 2022, under the chairmanship of Mr. Stalin, banned rummy and poker. The Bill was first adopted in the Assembly on October 19, 2022.
The Governor returned the Bill on March 6, saying it was ultra vires the Constitution and against the judgments of courts.
While reintroducing the Bill on March 23, Mr. Stalin recalled that it was drafted based on the recommendations of a committee headed by the retired Madras High Court judge, Justice K. Chandru, and the School Education Department, and consultations with others. Yet, the Governor returned the Bill after 131 days with some notes.
On April 10, the Assembly adopted a resolution moved by Mr. Stalin urging the Union Government and President Droupadi Murmu to issue appropriate instructions to Governor Ravi, to give his assent to Bills passed by the Assembly, within a specific period.
On the same day, Mr. Ravi granted his assent to the re-adopted Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Bill, 2022 (L.A. Bill No. 53 of 2022). Mr. Stalin said the assent was a “good consequence” of the resolution passed by the Assembly, pointing out how Tamil Nadu’s administration and the future of youngsters were being affected due to the pendency of many Bills
Senthilbalaji’s dismissal and the U-turn
Adding to the episodes of friction, Governor Ravi in June unilaterally “dismissed with immediate effect” arrested Minister V. Senthilbalaji from the Council of Ministers, only to backtrack on his decision later that night.
Mr. Senthilbalaji was earlier this month arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in an alleged money laundering case. The DMK leader, who was hospitalised after his arrest, underwent a beating heart coronary artery bypass surgery recently.
Notably, about a month ago Mr. Ravi asked the Chief Minister to drop Mr. Senthilbalaji from the State Cabinet, but Mr. Stalin instead reallocated the arrested politician’s Electricity and Excise portfolios, retaining him as a minister without portfolio. At that time, the Supreme Court had cleared the decks for the police and ED to proceed with their investigations against the Minister.
After backtracking on his decision, Mr. Ravi’s office communicated to the Chief Minister that upon Home Minister Amit Shah’s advice, the Raj Bhavan would consult the Attorney General on the matter of dismissal. The Governor also sent a five-page letter to Mr. Stalin flagging that Mr. Senthilbalaji was obstructing the investigation.
Mr. Ravi cited his powers under Articles 154, 163 and 164 of the Constitution to dismiss the embattled Minister. Mr. Stalin told journalists that the governor does not have the authority to dismiss a Minister. “We will face this legally,” he said.
Notably, on July 8, Mr. Stalin sent strongly worded representation to President Droupadi Murmu saying Governor R.N. Ravi, through his “biased” actions, had proved to be “unfit” for the constitutional post.