By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It is gubernatorial grouchiness at its worst. Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan must be replaced immediately. The Governor is guilty of going against all accepted norms of gubernatorial conduct, in the process of violating the Constitution he is supposed to uphold.
Arif Mohammed Khan upped the ante by asserting that he would not sign the ‘controversial’ bills passed by the Kerala Assembly – the one restricting the Chancellor’s role in appointment of university vice-chancellors and the bill seeking to curtail the powers of the Lok Ayukta. Khan said attempts by the Government to mount pressure on him to sign the bills would not succeed. “Why are they exerting pressure? So that I sign the university and Lok Ayukta bills? There is no way I will compromise.”
As if this was not enough, the Governor called a press conference at the Raj Bhavan, threatening to disclose ‘explosive’ information against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. This was an unprecedented step. He used the occasion to launch a no-holds-barred attack on the Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government.
But, unfortunately for him, the press conference turned out to be a damp squib. It was a classic case of the mountain delivering a mouse. The anti-Left media, eagerly waiting to lap up the stuff the Governor would dish out was sorely disappointed, too. The ‘evidence’ he threatened to disclose turned out to be information already available in the public domain.
In stepping up the confrontation, the Governor, unwittingly, handed over to the Government, as if on a platter, a potent weapon to put him on the mat. At the press conference, Khan had defended his meeting with RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat. The Left leaders are understandably jubilant. The Governor’s justification has vindicated the long-standing LDF stand that Khan has close links with the RSS and is dancing to the tune of the Modi Government at the Centre.
Meanwhile, opinion is divided on the Governor’s conduct. One school of thought says there is nothing much the government can do if the Governor refuses to sign the bills. However, the other section does not agree. It says the Government can move the court if the Governor delays the bills intentionally. They are of the view that the Governor will be doing an ‘unconstitutional act’ if he withholds or denies nod for the bills. That will also amount to blatant misuse of the Governor’s office, they contend.
Constitutional expert and former Lok Sabha Secretary-General PDT Achari said the Governor is constitutionally bound to give assent to the bills. True, Article 200 of the Constitution allows him to give his assent or withhold the bill temporarily, or reserve it for consideration of the President. He may also ask the State Assembly to reconsider the bill. If the Assembly refuses to do so, the Governor has no option but to sign the bill, argue constitutional experts. In the present case, Governor Khan has refused to sign the bills without even applying his mind or seeing the text of the bills. This is nothing but an insult to the Assembly and the people of the State.
Achari said it is true that the Constitution is silent on what can be done if the Governor refuses. But the Government can approach the Supreme Court, arguing that the Governor has done what he has done without applying his mind. The apex court can, then either ask the Governor to give his assent or agree with the decision of the Government.
The Governor’s conduct has deepened the differences in the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). It may be mentioned that the erstwhile UDF Government had gone to the extent of passing a resolution that the Governor be recalled. Moreover, Khan’s open admission of his RSS links has also put the UDF in a quandary. It cannot but oppose the Governor’s stand. Failure to do so would vindicate the LDF’s allegation that the UDF and the BJP have a secret understanding. As for the BJP, it has supported the Governor accusing the State Government of making it difficult for him to function. But it is unlikely to be of any help to the BJP to extend full support to a Governor who has openly violated the Constitution himself even as he is accusing the State Government and the CM of violating the statute.
It remains to be seen what the Governor will do now. Will he approach the Centre or the President? His options are seve3rely limited. He can delay his assent for a while. But he cannot do so indefinitely. At some point, the Governor will have to blink. If he does not do that, the Government can move the court. The Governor has painted himself into a corner. The best option for him is to end the confrontation. (IPA Service)