THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The standoff between Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government headed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over ‘political cronyism’ in university appointments is most unfortunate.
What is causing grave concern is the fact that the government-Governor spat is occurring with disturbing regularity. Five days have elapsed since the controversy has erupted. But there are no signs of a solution. The need of the hour is, therefore, expeditious steps to defuse the tension over the unfortunate episode.
The proximate cause for the Governor’s angry outburst is what he has termed as the Government’s refusal to ignore his caution against the appointment of favourites in key university positions. The extension of services of Kannur University Vice-Chancellor proved to be the last straw. In a letter which he dashed off to the Government, the Governor expressed his willingness to relinquish the Chancellor’s post. He also asked the Chief Minister to take over the post so that he can appoint persons of his choice to the top university posts. “I am requesting the Chief Minister to bring in an ordinance removing me as Chancellor. You (CM) then become the chancellor of the universities and do whatever you wish,” he told reporters, adding that all that he wanted was adherence to the rules and norms while appoint ting VCs in universities. The gravamen of the Governor’s allegation seemed to be that the relatives of CPI(M)leaders had got appointments at the expense of eligible candidates.
In his response to the Governor’s letter, the Chief Minister denied having put pressure on the Governor over the appointment of university vice-chancellors. Pinarayi said it was not the intention of his government to clash with the Governor, and offered to have a discussion on any of the issues raised by him. “We are not adamant on any issue. The Governor should not relinquish the post bestowed upon him by the Assembly. He should continue in the Chancellor’s post and guide the government and universities in their attempts to take the higher education sector to greater heights.
While there is nothing wrong in Governors taking up issues and seeking clarification from the Government, It is important that the manner of his intervention should not create a controversy. In this particular issue, Arif Mohammed Khan is clearly at fault in rushing to the press with his ‘grievances’. He should have quietly taken it up with the Chief Minister and amicably settled the issue. That he did not do that is a serious lapse on his part. By going public in a hurry, the Governor exposed himself to the charge that he is dancing to the rune of the ruling party at the Centre and allowing himself to be used as a pawn in furtherance of their political agenda. Incidentally, this is not the first time that Arif Mohammed Khan has gone public with his differences with the State Government. He had also publicly opposed the State Government when it got the Assembly to pass resolutions against the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) and seeking repeal of the anti-farmer laws.
The Governor’s tough stance has irked the LDF leaders. The strong reaction it has evoked is clear from the CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran’s remark. The Governor should realize the greatness of his post and should not force the Assembly to take back the post it had bestowed upon him, Kanam said. The CPI is also of the opinion that the post of Governor itself is an anachronism. Significantly, a section within the CPI(M) and the Students Federation of India(SFI) is credited with the view that if the Governor insists on quitting as the Chancellor, then he should be allowed to do so.
Such open indulgence in politics is unbecoming of a Governor. That is the crux of the CPI(M) and CPI leaders’ argument. CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan is on record that the Governor’s actions are mysterious. In support of his argument, Kodiyeri cites the case of Kannur VC’s reappointment. The Governor says he signed the file under pressure and much against his conscience. That argument is specious. If the Governor felt so strongly on the issue, he should have put his foot down and refused to sign the file. That he did not do so reflects poorly on him. By allowing himself to be a party to what he characterized as wrong-doing, the Governor is ‘guilty’ of the charge of abetment to the ‘crime’!
Be that as it may, the efforts now should be to solve the problem and defuse the tension. Such an open standoff at the top administrative and political levels is not at all good. The Governor should refrain from his proclivity to go public with his views critical of the Government. He should go by the established and accepted norms which govern the governor-Government relationship. It is of paramount importance that the Governor should not act or seen to be acting as the agent of the ruling party at the Centre. By his impulsive acts, Arif Mohammed Khan has reinforced the public perception that he is doing it all at the bidding of his political masters.
On its part, the Government also has a duty to see that there is no open showdown with the Governor. It should take all steps to ensure a smooth relationship with the Governor and to erase the trail of bitterness created by the unfortunate confrontation over the university appointments. It is a good sign that the Government has made it clear that it is not for a confrontation with the Governor. The Governor should reciprocate the sentiments expressed by the Government. That way lies harmonious relationship between the Governor and the Government reflecting the true spirit of cooperative federalism. (IPA Service)