In an unprecedented move, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan directed the Vice-Chancellors of nine universities in Kerala to tender their resignations by 11.30 a.m. on Monday.
Mr. Khan, the chancellor of varsities, issued the order after the Supreme Court annulled the appointment of M.S. Rajasree as Vice-Chancellor of the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University (KTU).
In a communique, the Governor alleged a violation of University Grants Commission (UGC) norms in the Vice-Chancellor appointment process.
For one, the Raj Bhavan said the search committees had failed to submit a panel of three to five candidates to the Chancellor so the Governor could exercise his informed judgement.
Instead, the committees arbitrarily proposed a single name for the top academic posts, thereby hobbling the Chancellor's right to wield his discretion.
The Governor's striking order surprised the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government and hardened its resolve to resist what it viewed as Raj Bhavan's attempt to impose the RSS Hindu majoritarian agenda on Kerala's storied higher education sector.
The political executive has reportedly counselled the Vice-Chancellors to ignore the Chancellor's order, setting the ground for a protracted legal battle with far-reaching constitutional ramifications.
Kannur University Vice Chancellor Gopinath Ravindran has said that he will not submit his resignation.
"I got the letter in the evening. He has been told to resign on Monday by 11.30 a.m. But now I am not resigning. If the decision is to remove me, then fire me, I will not resign,” Dr. Ravindran told media.
He said no State has dismissed all Vice-Chancellors like this in India. The Chancellor can fire Vice-Chancellors but there are criteria. The Chancellor’s action will create uncertainty in the universities.
The resignation of the Vice-Chancellor can be caused by two things financial irregularities and bad behaviour. It has been neither, he responded.
He said a case is pending in the Supreme Court regarding the appointment. Whether it is possible to dismiss the Vice-Chancellor in this way while there is a case, Dr Ravindran inquired, while responding to the media.
Meanwhile, the ruling front closed ranks to legally and politically push back against Mr. Khan.
At a joint press conference here, M.V. Govindan and Kanam Rajendran, State secretaries of the CPI(M) and CPI, respectively, hinted at possible legislation to remove the Governor as chancellor of varsities.
The leaders noted Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, and West Bengal had moved on similar lines following run-ins with "autocratic" Governors hell-bent on disrupting varsity administration at the BJP-led Centre's behest.
For one, they said the State government would move a review petition against the Supreme Court order revoking KTU's Vice-Chancellor appointment.
Secondly, the LDF would drum up public resistance against Mr. Khan's "tyrannical bid" to reduce State Universities into RSS indoctrination camps. On November 15, the LDF would hold a rally in front of the Raj Bhavan.
The LDF found a common cause with IUML leader and former Education Minister E.T. Muhammad Basheer, who said the Governor had overstepped his constitutional limit. However, Opposition leader V.D. Satheesan struck a different tack and backed Mr. Khan's decision. "The Governor has corrected an error, and I welcome it," he said. The BJP was yet to respond to the development.
(With inputs from C.P. Sajit)