By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan has, once again, kicked up a controversy by warning the ministers in the Pinarayi Vijayan Cabinet of expulsion if they make critical comments about him.
In a tweet on Monday, the Governor said statements from ministers that lower the dignity of the office of the Governor can invite action including withdrawal of pleasure. The reference was to Article 164(1) of the Constitution which says “ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor”.
The immediate provocation for the Governor’s anger was a statement of Higher Education Minister R Bindu. In a sharp reaction to the Governor’s steadfast refusal to given assent to the University Laws (Amendment) Bill, Bindu hinted at Khan’s “RSS links”, adding that all were bound by their constitutional duties. She also denied having made any comment which lowered the dignity of the Governor’s office. She told reporters that they all spoke with utmost restraint.
The Governor’s remarks drew a sharp response from the CPI(M) and the Congress. CPI(M) state secretary M V Govindan said Khan’s threat betrayed his ignorance of the Constitution and parliamentary democracy. The Governor does not have the powers to withdraw ministers, he added. In a statement, the CPI(M) Politburo said Khan has been acting in a manner that does not behove the high office he holds. It also exposed his hostility to the Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government.
For once, the Congress agreed with the CPI(M)’s stand on the issue. Leader of the Opposition, VD Satheesan, said the Governor has no right to withdraw the ministers. The BJP, however, defended Khan. Senior BJP leader from Kerala and Union Minister of State V Muraleedharan said the Governor was merely alluding to the ‘nepotism’ of the LDF Government. He went on to say that the Chief Minister was trying to intimidate the Governor using the ministers! The retort from the CPI(M) was that the boot is on the other leg.
Constitutional experts have taken strong exception to Khan’s ‘threat’. According to them, a Governor cannot remove ministers without the advice of the Chief Minister. A minister is appointed on the CM’s advice. Therefore, the Governor cannot make the appointment on his own, they aver. The Governor, they say, has clearly overstepped the authority the Constitution has bestowed on him. Constitutional expert and former Lok Sabha Secretary-General PDT Achary opined that a minister is appointed on the advice of the CM. Since, the Governor cannot make appointments on his own, how can he remove the minister without the advice from the Chief Minister?” he asked.
Former Supreme Court judge Justice K T Thomas is of the view that when the Governor exercises the pleasure on the basis of an advice tendered , then he has no power to withdraw that pleasure without another advice. Another retired Kerala High Court judge also made it clear that the Governor’s discretionary powers are limited. Mere criticism from a minister – in this case that the Governor is acting at the behest of the RSS, is not a sufficient reason for any drastic step, he pointed out.
The Government and the Governor have been at loggerheads ever since the former passed a Bill that limits the Governor’s role in the appointment of Vice-Chancellors. Arif Mohammed Khan has accused the Chief Minister of trying to pressure him into reappointing the Kannur University V-C Gopinath Ravindran. Three other Bills, passed recently by the State Assembly, are also awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Evidently, there is substance in the Government’s charge against the Governor of political bias and hostility towards the Pinarayi Vijayan Government. It may be mentioned that the Governor had, on August 5 this year, constituted a two-member search-cum-selection committee, with the condition that the third member (Kerala University Senate Committee) could be included later. The LDF-dominated Senate, however, refused to play ball. The Senate’s ‘negative’ attitude provoked Arif Mohammed khan into removing, at the stroke of a pen, as many as 15 members nominated by him to the Senate!
Legal experts, however, hold that the removal of four heads of department among the 15Senate members would not stand legal scrutiny. In another step, the Governor extended, by three months, the term of the search committee to select a new V-C in the University of Kerala. The extension would enable the Governor to give temporary charge of the Kerala University Vice-Chancellor to another person. Incidentally, the incumbent VC VP Mahadevan Pillai’s term expires on October 24.Given the strained relations between the Governor and the Government, the former is unlikely to accept any nominee suggested by the Government to hold temporary charge. (IPA Service)