That Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan is angry with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, and his LDF government is an understatement. He is absolutely livid and makes it clear at every opportunity—pouring his sense of outrage into the sympathetic ears of the media almost every day. With Vijayan too deciding to reply in kind, the exchange has breached the boundaries of a civil debate.
In what could lead to a constitutional crisis, the Governor has declared he will not sign two bills recently passed by the Kerala assembly. One pertains to changes made in rules for appointing vice-chancellors in state universities, and the other is intended to alter the Lok Ayukta Act. Khan contends that the University Laws (Amendment) Bill is aimed at curbing his powers as chancellor and enabling the government to have a decisive say in the selection of VCs, thus compromising the autonomy of universities. His objection to the Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Bill is that it would enable a public servant accused of illegal actions to be “a judge in his own cause”.
His outbursts indicate Khan has many bones to pick with the government and is repeatedly raking up a 2019 incident to attribute direct and indirect roles to the government and chief minister in what he considers was an attempt to intimidate him and cause physical harm. The said incident occurred during the Indian History Congress at Kannur University, where he was involved in a skirmish with historian Irfan Habib. The governor certainly has a duty to point out illegalities and lapses in the state government’s actions. But, as a representative of the Centre, the governor is also expected to facilitate the smooth functioning of the democratic system, not stall it.
When a bill passed by the assembly is presented, the governor has four options—clear it immediately, temporarily withhold, reserve it for the consideration of the President or return without signing. The only option before the government if the governor does not exercise any of the options is to approach the judiciary. That is a situation both the government and governor will do well to avoid. Both must also tone down the rhetoric, which is as pointless as it is acerbic. The current standoff doesn’t augur well for democracy. The governor must perform his duty and let the government carry on with its.