Governor stays Priya Varghese's university appointment

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, exercising his power as Chancellor of Universities, has stayed the appointment of Priya Varghese, wife of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's private secretary K. K. Rajesh, ex-MP, as Associate Professor in the Department of Malayalam, Kannur University (KU).

Invoking his powers under Section 7 (3) of the Kannur Universities Act, 1996, Mr. Khan also issued show cause notices to stakeholders, including Ms. Varghese and university Vice Chancellor Gopinath Ravindran.

SUCC complaint

The Governor had found some merit in the Save University Campaign Committee (SUCC) complaint that the university had ignored low research scores and given disproportionate weightage to a ‘highly subjective and questionable’ interview to load the dice in Ms. Varghese’s favour at the expense of six other “more eligible” candidates.

Higher Education Minister R. Bindu claimed the government had no say in Ms. Varghese's appointment. Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan waded into the issue by demanding Mr. Ravindran’s immediate resignation. He also slammed the government’s move to pass a law that would effectively relegate universities to a subaltern status. Mr. Ravindran said he would seek legal remedy.

Widening rift

Mr. Khan's decision could widen the rift between the government and the Raj Bhavan. The Chancellor's ruling also capped a protracted dispute between Mr. Khan and the Higher Education Department. It also triggered widespread speculation that the government's purported move to pass legislation to limit the Governor's say in selecting Vice Chancellors was the tipping point.

The development came close on the heels of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)‘s [CPI(M)] criticism that Mr. Khan had “weakened the democratic process” by refusing to assent to the government’s request to re-promulgate 11 Ordinances. The CPI(M) objected to Mr. Khan’s ‘politically charged public messaging using the Governor’s office as a pulpit.’

Resolutions opposed

The simmering disagreement between Mr. Khan and the government has a background. Mr. Khan had objected to the Assembly resolutions opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and farm laws on the ground they were Central legislation over which States had no jurisdiction. He also questioned the propriety of extending pensions to political appointees on ministerial staff. Mr. Khan had accused the government of coercing him to extend Mr. Ravindran's term as Kannur University Vice Chancellor beyond the retirement age.

Mr. Khan also revealed a disinclination to continue as Chancellor, given "rampant political interference, code violations and nepotism" in varsities. Mr. Khan put the government on tenterhooks on the eve of the Assembly’s Budget session in April by ‘fleetingly’ withholding his assent to the government’s policy address.

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Printable version | Aug 17, 2022 9:43:40 pm |