The State Cabinet on Wednesday resolved to request Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan to promulgate an ordinance removing him as the sole chancellor of State universities.
The government wants to supplant Mr. Khan with “renowned academic experts” as chancellors of various varsities. It was still being determined whether the government would appoint a separate chancellor for each of the 14 universities in the State.
The government appeared to have opened a new political and legal front in the Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) conflict with Mr. Khan over the administration of State universities.
For one, the proposed ordinance would, at a stroke, divest Mr. Khan’s power as chancellor and render Raj Bhavan remote from all aspects of the university administration.
The Cabinet cited that the M. M. Punchhi Commission, constituted in 2007 to study Centre-State relations, had vouched against granting Governors the chancellor’s powers.
The Cabinet contended that the Legislative Assembly had created the office of the chancellor and weaved the legislation into the founding statute that established State universities. Hence, the Assembly was assertively competent to withdraw the Governor’s powers as chancellor.
The Cabinet noted that the Punchhi Commission had stressed that State governments should desist from burdening Governors with the role of chancellor of universities lest the extra authority impede them from the discharge of their constitutional obligations.
The Cabinet decision came as no surprise. On Sunday, CPI(M) State secretary M. V. Govindan had hinted the party would go to any extent to insulate the jurisdictional autonomy of universities from Mr. Khan’s alleged trespasses.
The three-day CPI(M) State leadership conference Mr. Govindan chaired had flagged the friction caused by Mr. Khan’s continuation as chancellor and also grappled with the vexing question of curtailing his powers.
The CPI(M) also seemed to take a cue from the DMK-led Tamil Nadu government’s reported weighing of a similar measure following several run-ins with the neighbouring State’s governor over various issues related to university administration.
Relations turned sour
The Cabinet’s momentous decision came when government-Governor relations were at their lowest point.
Earlier, Mr. Khan had controversially withdrawn the pleasure for the continuation of Finance Minister K. N. Balagopal in office. He accused the Minister of seditious speech and repeatedly engaged in an acrimonious war of words with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
Mr. Khan had also thrown down the gauntlet to the LDF government by seeking the resignation of vice-chancellors on the ground that the Supreme Court had deemed their appointment processes flawed.
He premised his controversial directive on the ground that the government had appointed them through the same procedure deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court in the case of the A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Technological University (KTU) vice-chancellor.
The Kerala High Court granted some relief to the government on Tuesday by temporarily restraining the chancellor from passing final orders on the show cause notices he issued to the vice-chancellors.
By some accounts, the Government would introduce a Bill in the Assembly if Mr. Khan disagreed with the ordinance and withheld its promulgation.
Opposition to oppose Bill
However, it might not be a smooth going for the LDF in the Assembly. Opposition Leader V. D. Satheesan shattered the government’s hope of a unanimous vote to curtail the Governor’s powers by stating the UDF would oppose a possible Bill to remove the Governor from the chancellor’s post.
He said the LDF’s move was not well-intentioned and conspiratorial. The CPI(M) aspired to insert its favourites into chancellor positions to take total control of the higher education sector to promote politically partisan interests, including nepotism in appointments.
Mr. Satheeshan’s opposition notwithstanding, the LDF is confident that it has the numbers to push a Bill removing Mr. Khan as university chancellor through the Assembly.
Moreover, other LDF constituents, including the CPI has closed ranks against the Governor’s alleged trespasses on the jurisdictional autonomy of centres of higher learning.