I’ve never interfered in the running of Kerala government: Governor Arif Mohammed Khan

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan takes questions on variety of issues, including his strong disagreements with Pinarayi Vijayan, in the 10th edition of Delhi Dialogues
Governor Arif Mohammed Khan
Governor Arif Mohammed Khan

Arif Mohammed Khan responds to a range of questions about his conflict with the Left Front government, its priorities and the state’s economic crisis. He also speaks about his equation with the chief ninister and as well as issues concerning his conscience.


Shahid Faridi: You once quoted from Maulana Azad’s 1946 interview saying that the worst thing a person can do to himself is suppress the voice of his conscience. How do you negotiate the potential conflict between your duties as a governor and the voice of your conscience?

There would have been no controversy if I had ignored my conscience. The very fact that people ask me these questions is because I don’t follow the general practice. Conscience means I have taken an oath that I shall preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of India and shall serve the interest of the people of Kerala to the best of my ability. This is the main source of guidance. I do not want to arrogate to myself that I shall decide what is right or wrong.

Prabhu Chawla: The Kerala CM also takes oath… There will always be a conflict…

No. Here, I will go by the wisdom of the fathers of our Constitution. India, historically, has been politically fragmented. It was culturally and spiritually united as one entity.

Look at the debate of the Constituent Assembly — what has been said and why this office came into existence. They were of the view that we have these laws you can change in a day’s time. But, to change the habits and attitudes, it requires a long time. We are so full of diversity. Traditionally, we have viewed diversity as a great source to strengthen our unity. Indian culture has always believed in unity, and not uniformity. But, because we have been politically fragmented, therefore, laws have been changed, the Constitution has been changed. But the mindset, which represents those old tendencies, still exists in society.

The Governor’s role is not to run the administration but to ensure that administration is run in a manner which strengthens the unity of the country.

Shahid Faridi: We see a lot of conflict between you and the state government; there are many bills, which you have not cleared, hampering administration.

In the last four years, you give me one instance where I have tried to run the administration or even interfered anywhere, and I will not take even a minute to put in my papers. There are issues I have raised about the bill on university.

Shahid Faridi: A state government does have the power to legislate on how the universities function…

When the UGC came into existence and it framed certain regulations, the honorable Supreme Court said that a state government has every right to pass a law, but the law cannot conflict with the UGC regulations. In case of a conflict, the UGC rules shall prevail.

Shahid Faridi: Are you saying there is a conflict? 

The state government is going beyond its jurisdiction. The UGC has framed the regulations keeping in mind the accepted principle that vice-chancellor/governor shall be ex offico chancellor of universities. What the state government wants is to appoint the chancellor themselves, removing the governor from the framework.

Despite a constitutional directive that the chief minister must be in touch with the governor on a regular basis, he has not come even once to the Raj Bhavan to brief me on any subject. I have written to the President that when the CM is on foreign tours, I do not know whom to contact.

Prabhu Chawla: Does he send the cabinet minutes to you?

That is a totally different thing. He has himself come several times. But why did he come? To discuss some appointments in his home district, Kannur. I told him you are an elected CM and your wishes cannot be ignored, particularly in Kannur. I told him that let the process be completed and then when the final three names come, I will have consultation. But what did was send his legal advisor with a note saying you already promised to the CM that you would accommodate him in the appointment of the Kannur university.

Prabhu Chawla: He gave it in writing… 

Yes. He hands over the papers to me saying we have consulted the advocate general and there will be no illegality. I take the paper and say there is no signature. Why should I assume that this has been given by the advocate general? He says ‘give us a little more time.’ And then comes a letter from the education minister who also happens to be the pro-chancellor of the universities with a duly signed opinion of the advocate general. I was clear in my mind that what they were asking me to do is illegal.

But my problem was that even if I am facing some legal dilemma, I will have to go to the advocate general. So reluctantly, I made it clear that this was wrong. But that very day I wrote a letter to the CM. I said I have done it but in my opinion it is illegal. I told him since you are again going to pressure me into doing something like this, my request to you is to make some alternative arrangement - I do not want to continue as chancellor.

The problem in Kerala is there is no industry. All the prosperity of Kerala is because it is rich in human resources and a large number of bright Keralites. They leave Kerala after 10+2. Go to any national institution, the number of Kerala students is disproportionately high. Also, Keralites are 3% of the population of the country, but the state contributes 30% of the national remittances.

Kerala’s major source of revenue is liquor and lottery. The Left government is running lottery. Who are they fleecing? The poor. Why? Because they don’t have money even to pay the salaries of their employees.

Prabhu Chawla: So, you are saying that they are mismanaging the state...

I won’t say it’s mismanaged, but its priorities are. Sometimes you feel scared.

Prabhu Chawla: You mean the priorities are scary?

Tell me something: all the time you are announcing schemes involving lots of expenditure. Without creating wealth, you want to distribute wealth. How long will that survive?

Prabhu Chawla: Are they headed towards bankruptcy?

They have already submitted an affidavit before the high court saying they are facing a severe economic crisis. 

Shahid Faridi: The state government has been complaining about your interference.?

They (the state government) have not come out with any instance of interference. It is my statutory duty to protect the autonomy of universities, which practically means to ensure that there is no outside interference. That is the area of conflict. Here, in the university, you can get an appointment only if you belong to the party cadre.

Shahid Faridi: Why are you not clearing the bill sent to you by the government?

One bill, for instance, pertains to the Lokayukta… At the Lokayukta Day function in Trivandrum recently, a Supreme Court judge praised the Kerala Lokayukta bill and said this law must not be diluted. But they want to become judges in their own cause, all powers going to the CM…  

Paramita Ghosh: Is it not mandatory for you to clear the bill if the state government sends one back to you for second time?

My understanding is that it is not mandatory for the governor. At no stage I have said that I will not clear the bills. The only thing on which I have insisted is about my questions. I ask them to brief me about my queries. The CM sends ministers. They come with his letter. When I seek explanations of points mentioned in those letters, they say ‘how can we explain a letter which has been written by the CM’. Then I ask them to send the CM to brief me.

During the Kannur episode, I wrote to the CM offering to relinquish the post of chancellor. His reply came, ‘no, you will continue as chancellor.’ Three months later, what happened? A vacancy in Kerala University was about to arise. We start the process of selection three months before the vacancy. So the finance minister came to me and this has been the practice earlier.

The Supreme Court has said that if there is a presence of a non-academic person in the selection committee, the whole process becomes vitiated.

There is another interesting story here. Whenever a minister came to me, he was accompanied by two or three people. I was informed that none of them is an official. Every minister comes accompanied by a private secretary. I asked my secretary to write a letter to the chief secretary and circulate it so no minister’s personal staff would come to the Raj Bhavan.

Despite that, Raj Bhavan received a call from the CMO. The CM told me that his OSD is coming. I said I refuse to receive your OSD; if you want to come, you are most welcome.

Prabhu Chawla: You said this to the Chief Minister?

I said if you want to come, you are most welcome. If you want to send your chief secretary, most welcome. But I refuse to deal with the personal staff of the CM or minister. And then I was told that in more than 50% cases the private secretary is senior to the minister in the party hierarchy and it is the private secretary who is running the ministry. Kerala is the only state government where every minister has the right to appoint 25 people as personal staff. And these personal staff become entitle to life-long pension after serving for two years. 

Prabhu Chawla: They get pension?

Yes. Within two years. After two years, the whole group resigns. Another set comes in. So every minister produces 50 full-time party workers who are being paid salary by the government from the public exchequer.

Shahid Faridi: Was this law to pay pension to people who have worked for two years with a minister or in the ministry brought in by this government?

No. It was brought many years back. It was initially brought by the UDF. But they improved upon it by cutting short the period required to two years. Earlier it was five years. Sometimes the government goes in for re-election before completing five years, so they have kept the pension entitlement period at two years. 

Preetha Nair: You said Kerala lags in many sectors, but NITI Aayog figures say something else.

I have only pointed out what the government has said in the high court. As a society we are surviving because our people are very hard working. 

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express