Fractious relations between Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and the Left Democratic Government led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan plumbed to a new low with the former making it public that Finance Minister KN Balagopal has ‘ceased to enjoy his pleasure’ with an implied demand for his withdrawal from the State Cabinet.
The Chief Minister took no time in rejecting the demand, reportedly asserting his Constitutional right to appoint or drop ministers as he deemed fit. In a communication to the Raj Bhavan, he is reported to have reiterated his view that it was instead his counsel that was binding on the Governor.
Long-drawn battle of wits
It may be recalled that the Governor and the Chief Minister along with some Cabinet colleagues, had been engaged in a war of words over the running of universities in the State. This culminated in the unprecedented act of the Governor demanding the resignation of Vice-Chancellors of all universities.
He had earned the government’s wrath by refusing to sign the Kerala University Laws (Amendment) Bill and Kerala Loka Ayukta (Amendment) Bills into law. He also challenged resolutions passed by the State Legislative Assembly against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the Centre’s farm laws.
In a strongly worded letter to Vijayan on Wednesday, the Governor took exception to Balagopal’s reported statement ‘those people who were accustomed to practices in places such as Uttar Pradesh would not understand the democratic nature in which universities in Kerala function.’ He quoted the minister as having said during a speech recently at a campus that “for those familiar with universities in States such as Uttar Pradesh, it would be difficult to understand universities in Kerala”.
The Governor made a case for himself by referring to Balagopal’s statements that amounted to ‘stoking regionalism instead of promoting national unity.’ The minister had sought to create ‘a wedge between Kerala and other states and project an impression that different states had different systems of higher education”.
He had challenged not just national unity and integrity but also the Constitutional convention that provides that the Governor of each State shall be chosen from outside the State. “In these circumstances, I am left with no option but to convey that Shri KN 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 in his letter. On its part, the government said that the Governor lacked the constitutional authority to withdraw his pleasure without the Chief Minister’s consent in relation to the continuation of a minister in office.
Governor demands resignations
The Governor’s letter comes in the context of his insistence that continuance of nine Vice-Chancellors of State universities was untenable as the Supreme Court had deemed the selection process not in accordance with University Grants Commission (UGC) norms.
He held that the Supreme Court’s cancellation of MS Rajasree’s appointment as the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University (KTU) Vice-Chancellor would apply to other university heads selected through the same process. In his capacity as Chancellor of universities, the Governor had advised the Vice-Chancellors to put in papers before 11.30 am on Monday last. The High Court of Kerala had granted them a temporary reprieve, prompting the Governor to issue show-cause notices. The Raj Bhavan has set November 3 as the deadline for their reply.