Kerala Governor Arif Muhammad Khan ups the ante against Pinarayi Vijayan govt.

Kerala Governor Arif Muhammad Khan fired a fresh salvo by alleging that Mr. Vijayan had forsaken the Chief Minister's duty to brief the Governor on matters of the State.

September 17, 2022 11:24 am | Updated 11:24 am IST - Thiruvananthapuram:

Kerala Governor Arif Muhammad Khan appeared to have upped the ante in the evidently bitter dispute with the State government.

Speaking to journalists in Kochi on Saturday, September 17, 2022, Mr. Khan seemed to draw the curtain back on the Raj Bhavan's increasingly fraught relationship with the Kerala government. His words also arguably signalled a personal falling out with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

CM forsakes duty

Mr. Khan alleged Mr. Vijayan had forsaken the Chief Minister's duty to brief the Governor on matters of the State. Mr. Vijayan rarely returned calls or replied to his letters. The government had used "every trick in the box" to intimidate the governor and make him fear for his physical safety, the Governor said.

Mr. Khan's seemingly indignant riposte to Mr. Vijayan's damning indictment of the Governor's "contrarian positions" on various issues at a press conference on Friday shed light on what appeared to be growing mistrust between the government and Raj Bhavan.

Assent to legislations in doubt

Mr. Khan hinted he would not sign into law any Bill that infringes on the autonomy of varsities, casting the governor's assent to the University Laws (Amendment) Act, 2022, in doubt.

Mr. Khan also appeared sceptical about the Kerala Lok Ayutak (Amendment) Act, 2022. Quoting press reports and Assembly proceedings, Mr. Khan said the law seemed to violate the cardinal principle of natural justice: "no one should be a judge in their own cause (Nemo judex in causa sua). "Even if you (government) persuade me to sign, the judiciary will strike it down. The Constitution has no time limit for giving gubernatorial assent to legislation. Everything will be decided on merit," he said.

More revelations

Mr. Khan said he would reveal more about his transactions with Mr. Vijayan when he reached Thiruvananthapuram, the State capital.

He said it was rare for a Governor to comment publicly on affairs of State. However, Raj Bhavan's effort to counsel the government had failed. "The people have a right to know. Mounting popular pressure might dissuade the government's highhandedness.", he said.

Legal and political ramifications

The stand-off is bound to have far-reaching political, legal and constitutional ramifications. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) opposition and Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP) had urged Mr. Khan to reject the legislation.

The CPI(M) accused Mr. Khan of overstepping his Constitutional bounds and trespassing on the jurisdiction of the elected government.

Attempt on life

Mr. Khan suggested the Home department had prevented the police from booking those responsible for the "attempt on the Governor's life" at the Indian History Congress hosted by the Kannur University in 2019.

(Some delegates had heckled Mr. Khan for his perceived backing for the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act) which the ruling front and the Opposition in Kerala opposed.

Mr. Khan had courted controversy that year by holding that the Assembly had no role in adjudicating on a Central law. Hence, the Assembly's unanimous resolution demanding the Centre rescind the act was "unconstitutional and insignificant".

Mr. Khan said the government had "denigrated and demeaned" the governor's office by refusing to book the hecklers under section 124 of the Indian Constitution.

The provision entails a punishment of up to seven years of imprisonment for those who "compel, restrain or overawe" the president or governor in exercising their duties.

Points finger at CM

Mr. Khan asked, "who prevented the police" from prosecuting those who had "attacked" him? "Who helmed the home department at the time?" he asked.

Mr. Khan said he was glad the Chief Minister had revealed the administration's hand by attacking the Raj Bhavan at a press conference at the Secretariat on Friday.

"At least now he (CM) is not trying to play the game from behind the curtain. Instead of using proxies like Irfan Habib and some vice chancellor, who the CM asked to defy the orders of the Chancellor, at least he (Mr. Vijayan) has come out openly.", he said.

Mr. Khan said he saw a conspiracy to harm him physically at the Kannur university function. "Somebody used the Vice Chancellor to ensure my presence at the Kannur varsity so they could attack me. The assailants tore the shirt off my aide-de-camp. "If some higher authority prevents the police from taking legal action, was it an act of favouritism or was that person also part of the conspiracy?" he asked.

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