Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan accused Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's private secretary K. K. Ragesh, ex-MP, of preventing the police from arresting those who heckled him at the venue of the Indian History Congress (IHC) in Kannur University in 2019.
Breaking with conventionalities, Mr. Khan held a nearly two-hour press conference at the Raj Bhavan to circulate a litany of charges against the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government and the "ideology of violence" that informed the ruling party.
He said the government's use of intimidation to coerce the governor to assent to the administration's erroneous decisions had constrained him to reach out to the public via the media.
Assent to laws in doubt
During the protracted media interaction, Mr. Khan dropped ample hints that he would not sign into law the University Laws (Amendment) Act, 2022 and the Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Act, 2022.
“I will not allow the government to infringe on the autonomy of universities. I will not let the political executive sit in judgement of its own cause. The legislation seeks to vest the government with the overriding appellate authority to circumvent any adverse and incriminating declaration by the Lok Ayukta, the constitutional anti-corruption watchdog. Such a law runs against the grain of natural justice and jurisprudence,” Mr. Khan said.
CM "rewards" Ragesh
Screening video footage and circulating government communications to back his charges, Mr. Khan said Mr. Vijayan had inducted Mr. Ragesh into his personal staff as a reward for restraining the police from arresting those who "conspired to harm" him at the (IHC) venue.
The government also lobbied to appoint Mr. Ragesh's wife as faculty in Kannur varsity's Malayalam department. (The governor had stayed the appointment on nepotism charges.)
Mr. Khan accused the CM's political secretary of restraining the police from prosecuting the persons who tried to rush the dais.
Section 124 IPC
Mr. Khan said any attempt to overawe, intimidate or prevent the President or Governor from discharging his duties was a cognisable offence under section 124 of the IPC. It entails a punishment of seven years imprisonment and a fine.
Mr. Khan said the statute of limitations did not apply to serious crimes. However, Raj Bhavan would not seek any probe against the "plotters", he said. Mr. Khan sought a report of the incident from the Kannur vice-chancellor Gopinath Ravindran. Mr. Ravindran replied that "he was not a security expert and could not comment on such matters", Mr. Khan said.
CM "flip-flops" on promise
Mr. Khan said Mr. Vijayan had gone back on his word that the government would not interfere in the governor's discretionary power to appoint vice-chancellors. He furnished a letter written by Mr. Vijayan.
Mr. Khan said Mr. Vijayan requested him to extend the term of Kannur vice chancellor, Gopinathan Ravindran, beyond the retirement age. Mr. Khan said he would honour Mr. Vijayan's request, but the selection procedure should proceed as per the norm.
Mr. Khan asked the government to send a list of nominees, and the Chancellor would give weightage to Mr. Vijayan's choice.
However, the government scuttled the selection process and "pressurised" the governor to appoint Mr. Vijayan's choice unilaterally.
"I wrote to the CM that I was sick of the pressure brought upon me by the government in Kannur vice chancellor's appointment. I did not wish to continue as Chancellor, and the CM could assume the post and do as he wanted. With hindsight, I repent that I assented to the appointment ", Mr. Khan said.
"Disdain" for the rule of law
Mr. Khan said the idealogy that drives the ruling front originated outside India. It sanctions the use of violence and intimidation to silence dissent. They (the ruling party) believe they have an inalienable right to break the law to achieve their political ends.
A Minister lost his job because he rubbished the Constitution. An airline banned the ruling front convenor for unruly in-flight behaviour.
Another ruling front MLA questioned India's territorial integrity by adopting Pakistan's language on Kashmir. "It is how they (ruling front workers) are indoctrinated in their training camps. Their idealogy sanctions using force to liquidate class enemies, meaning persons who do not conform to the party's political views. Can the CM deny that the idealogy he adheres to favours strong-arm tactics?", Mr. Khan asked.
The Governor said the political violence in Kannur and campus murders were apparent manifestations of the "foreign ideology".
Mr. Khan accused the government of employing the same tactics against Raj Bhavan. "Ruling front supporters attempted to harm me in Kannur. They prevented the police from prosecuting the lawbreakers.
Later, a government secretary reminded the Governor there was no precedent for appointing persons active in politics as Raj Bhavan staff. The political executive has recurrently sought to undermine, malign and heap dignity on the governor's office", Mr. Khan said.
Mr. Khan questioned the propriety of extending life-long pension to the personal staff of Ministers, political appointees after a minimum tenure of two-and-a-half years.
Mr. Khan dismissed the CPI(M) 's highlighting of his meeting with RSS chief Mohun Bhagat to impute political partisanship. "I have a long association with RSS since 1986. They supported my position in the Shah Banu case. So did late CPI(M) leader E. M. S. Namboodiripad. Then, the party changed tack and backed the personal law code. The RSS is not a proscribed organisation in India. Prime Minister Jawarhal Lal Nehru had invited the RSS to participate in the Republic Day parade.", he said.
CM's "contempt" for journalists
Mr. Khan dwelled on Mr. Vijayan's alleged disdain for the media. He urged journalists to stand up for their dignity. "The CM had asked you to get out once. Now, if you do not fight for your professional dignity, the CM will order his men to throw you out", Mr. Khan said.
CPI(M) State secretariat member and former Law Minister A. K. Balan accused Mr. Khan of breaking his oath of office. Mr. Balan said Mr. Khan had denigrated the Governor's office by using Raj Bhavan as a pulpit for politicking against the government at the RSS's behest.
He said the party CPI(M) would legally and politically counter the governor's trespasses on democracy and federalism.
The government should move the president and chief justice of the Kerala High Court against Mr. Khan's attempt to undermine the government and personally vilify the Chief Minister and his cabinet.