Why did Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, after some initial dithering, give his nod to the reinduction of Saji Cheriyan — who had to step down for making “controversial” remarks on the Indian Constitution — in the Pinarayi Vijayan Cabinet?
The answer, according to those in the know, is both political and legal.
The national leadership of the BJP apparently advised Khan against objecting to the appointment of a Cabinet minister — a chief minister’s prerogative — as it did not want to give Opposition parties another example of the Centre attempting to weaken democratically-elected non-BJP state governments.
Central ministers who spoke with Khan are believed to have told him to avoid creating the impression that he was vindictive and pushing narrow political interests at a time the CPI(M), the biggest constituent of the ruling LDF in Kerala, is successfully creating a narrative about Khan being a puppet of the Centre.
The fact that the church too backed Cherian’s reinduction may well also have been a factor.
Some legal experts reportedly advised Khan that an MLA can take an oath even if the Governor does not host the ceremony. Khan was informed that there was at least one occasion in the country when an MLA designated to be minister just sent his signed oath to the Governor, who had refused to swear him in. The signed oath was per the Constitution’s Third Schedule format. The MLA became minister instantly.
The Governor was told in clear terms that it was his Constitutional obligation to swear in a minister when the chief minister advised him to. Unlike in the case of giving consent to bills passed by the Assembly, which the Governor could delay indefinitely, he had no choice in this matter.
Governor Khan, nevertheless, deviated from the norm by briefing the chief minister about the gravity of the case pending at a Thiruvalla court against Saji Cheriyan’s statement against the Indian Constitution.
Khan apparently clarified that he would not share any possible fallout of the scheduled swearing-in on 4 December should there be an adverse verdict from the court.