Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has pushed the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government into a legal and political predicament by withdrawing his pleasure visa-a-vis the continuation of Finance Minister K. N. Balagopal in office.
In a quick-fire riposte to Mr. Khan's striking sally against the government, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has reportedly rejected the "unprecedented gubernatorial fiat" and reasserted his "constitutional right to drop or appoint Ministers".
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In a forcefully worded letter to Mr. Vijayan, Mr. Khan took strong exception to Mr. Balagopal's statement that people who were accustomed to practices in places such as Uttar Pradesh would not understand the democratic nature in which universities in Kerala function.
Mr. Khan said: "Although the Chief Minister was silent, there were innuendos against the Governor by Ministers who spoke at the [varsity] function. Ministers R. Bindu and K. N. Balagopal spoke without mentioning the [Governor's] office or name. K.N. Balagopal said that for those familiar with universities in States like Uttar Pradesh, it would be difficult to understand universities in Kerala".
Mr. Khan quoted several newspaper reports, leading with The Hindu, to make his case against the Minister. He accused Mr. Balagopal of stoking regionalism and challenging national unity.
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Mr. Khan wrote: "The reported statements of Shri K. N. Balagopal are nothing short of a violation of the oath I had administered to him. A Minister who deliberately violates the oath and undermines the unity and integrity of India cannot continue to enjoy my pleasure. In these circumstances, I am left with no option but to convey that Shri K. N. Balagopal has ceased to enjoy my pleasure. I hope that you [Chief Minister] will consider the matter with the seriousness it deserves and take constitutionally appropriate action", he said.
Mr. Khan said the Education and Law Ministers had indulged in personal attacks against him. "I wish to ignore them as they hurt me personally, But if I do not take cognisance of the seditious remarks of Shri K. N. Balagopal, it would be a grave omission of duty on my part", he stated.
The legal and political ramifications of the tug-of-war between Mr. Khan and the government remained debatable. The Raj Bhavan had put the onus on Mr. Vijayan to act.
The government maintained that Mr. Khan was reading unintended meanings into Mr. Balagopal's words, and the Minister had not denigrated the Governor's office as alleged.
CPI(M) State secretary M. V. Govindan said the "pleasure of the Governor" was restrained by the Chief Minister's advice.
Mr. Govindan reminded Mr. Khan that the legislature had bestowed the chancellor's powers on the Governor.
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CPI State secretary Kanam Rajendran said Mr. Khan had "stirred a storm in a teacup". He accused Mr. Khan of trespassing into the jurisdictional autonomy of varsities to enable the Sangh Parivar to control the centres of higher learning.
Leader of the Opposition V. D. Satheesan said the Governor's letter to the government should be "dismissed with due contempt"