Fresh salvo: Kerala Governor wants Finance Minister Balagopal dropped, chief minister rejects demand

Khan demands 'constitutionally appropriate' action against the minister for his 'seditious' remarks that violated the oath of office.

BySreerag PS

Published Oct 26, 2022 | 3:06 PMUpdatedOct 26, 2022 | 7:21 PM

Kerala Governor

Embattled Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on Wednesday, 26 October, wrote to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, asking him to take “constitutionally appropriate” action against Finance Minister KN Balagopal for making “seditious” remarks that violated the oath of office.

The appropriate action has been widely interpreted as a demand to drop Balagopal from the Cabinet of ministers.

Drawing the chief minister’s attention to media reports of Balagopal’s speech at the University of Kerala campus in Kariyavattom on 18 October, the Governor said the minister had “ceased to enjoy my pleasure”.

The comments made at the foundation stone-laying ceremony sought to “stoke the fire of regionalism and provincialism” and “undermined the unity of India,” the Governor wrote in his five-page letter.

The Governor fired the fresh salvo even as he has been locked in a standoff with the government over the appointment of vice-chancellors. He sought the resignation of nine vice-chancellors on Sunday, which the High Court of Kerala has put on hold.

Chief minister rejects demand

According to reports, the chief minister summarily, and as expected, rejected the Governor’s request. He emphasised his trust in Balagopal, who is also a Central Committee member of the CPI(M), the biggest party in the ruling LDF.

Incidentally, the Kariyavattom event was held a day after the Governor had issued a warning to Cabinet ministers against any attempts to undermine the dignity of the Raj Bhavan.

“The CM and Council of Ministers have every right to advise the Governor. But statements of individual ministers that lower the dignity of the office of the Governor can invite action, including withdrawal of pleasure,” the tweet posted on the Governor’s official Twitter handle on 17 October said.

Driving a wedge

Governor Khan included several excerpts from news reports on the speeches delivered by Higher Education Minister R Bindu and Balagopal, “clearly aimed at tarnishing the image of the Governor and lowering the dignity of the office of the Governor. The Governor termed the comments “derogatory and highly objectionable”.

Finance Minister K N Balagopal. Photo by KB Jayachandran.

Taking exception to Balagopal’s “most disturbing” comments, the Governor said, “If allowed to go unchecked, they may have an erosive and baneful influence on our national unity and integrity.”

“Some people who are accustomed to the practices in places like Uttar Pradesh might not be able to understand the democratic nature in which universities function in Kerala,” The Hindu reported Balagopal as saying.

A Malayala Manorama report further quoted Balagopal: “Those coming from places like UP, where the vice-chancellors have a hundred security guards, may find it difficult to understand the universities in Kerala.”

Taking offence, the Governor, hailing from Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh, said the finance minister was seeking “to create a wedge between Kerala and other states of the Indian Union and project a false impression as if different states of India have different systems of higher education”.

Comparing Kerala with north Indian states, especially those ruled by the BJP is common in the state.

The Governor added that Balagopal’s assertations had no basis “as the higher education in all states of India is subject to UGC regulations which issues not only guidelines to conduct the affairs of the universities but also provides substantial monetary assistance”.

Khan informed Vijayan that the acts and statutes of Indian universities were more or less the same.

The Kerala legacy

Drawing attention to Kerala’s age-old tradition of respecting and accepting, the Governor reminded that the state Planning Board has had outsiders as its vice-chairpersons.

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan. (Supplied)

Khan pointed out that those from outside the state have become Members of Parliament and top brass of political parties. Rahul Gandhi of the Congress has been representing Wayanad in the Lok Sabha.

“The comments of Finance Minister K N Balagopal challenge not only the national unity and integrity but also the constitutional convention that makes it necessary that the Governor of each state shall be from outside the state,” he noted.

The Governor also invoked Shankaracharya and Sree Narayana Guru to remind Balagopal, who Khan termed “totally ignorant of the great legacy of Kerala, which has played an extremely important role in building Indian unity”.

Sir CP, EMS and Punnapra

To underline Keralites’ strong belief in the unity of India, Khan drew attention to a 1947 incident. It “is evident from the treatment they meted out to the Diwan of Travancore in August 1947, after he announced his plans to break Kerala from India.”

The said incident, however, happened on 25 July 1947. Socialist KCS Mani attacked Diwan Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer in front of the Music Academy — now known as Swathi Thirunal College of Music — at Thycaud in Thiruvananthapuram.

Iyer escaped the assassination bid with injuries but resigned as the diwan on 19 August, 1947.

Khan also referred to the late CPI(M) leader EMS Namboodiripad, and the lead slogan of the Punnapra-Vayalar uprising, “American model Arabikkadalil (American model will be tossed into the Arabian Sea).

The Punnapra-Vayalar revolt of October 1946 was against Iyer’s move to adopt the American model for an independent Travancore (Thiruvananthapuram). The diwan crushed the uprising brutally, leaving more than 400 communists dead.

Balagopal singled out

Governor Khan further added that “although there are others like education minister and law minister who have indulged in attacks on me, I wish to ignore them as they hurt me personally. But if I do not take cognizance of the seditious remarks of Shri KN Balagopal, it would be a grave omission of duty on my part,”

The letter concluded by stating that although the Governor had appointed Balagopal, he was left with no option to convey that “Balagopal has ceased to enjoy my pleasure”.

Balagopal, a former Rajya Sabha member, is a first-time MLA representing Kottarakkara.