In a volte-face from his earlier stand, Kerala Governor Arif Muhammad Khan on Tuesday, 3 January, permitted the swearing-in of CPI(M) leader Saji Cherian as a member of the second Pinarayi Vijayan Cabinet.
He had earlier said that the minister, who was forced to resign after making adverse comments on the Indian Constitution, would be reinducted only after he was exonerated by the concerned courts.
The former minister for cultural affairs and fisheries is expected to be readmitted to the Cabinet on Wednesday evening.
The Governor, who initially played hardball, saying he required legal opinions before permitting the swearing-in, relented by Tuesday afternoon.
He informed the chief minister that the swearing-in ceremony would be held as proposed by the Cabinet at 4 pm on Wednesday.
What the Governor said
According to Raj Bhavan sources, the Governor granted permission for the swearing-in with extreme disapproval.
He wanted to avoid creating a crisis by going against the Constitution, which directs the Governor to swear in the person recommended by the chief minister.
The case, filed against Saji Cherian at the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court in Thiruvalla by Kochi-based lawyer Baiju Noel — contending that the former minister committed an offence under Section 2 of the Prevention Of Insults To National Honour Act of1971 (ACT. 69 Of 1971) — is still not over.
Despite that, Khan on Tuesday said he approved Vijayan’s recommendation to reinduct Cherian as a minister as the chief minister’s advice was binding on him.
Khan told reporters that whatever he had to say to the chief minister about Cherian’s induction had been stated, and that he would not discuss that before the media.
“Ultimately, I accepted the chief minister’s recommendation, and we will have the swearing-in tomorrow. Even yesterday, I said that his advice was binding on me in these matters,” he said on Tuesday.
Khan’s decision comes a day after he said that Cherian’s induction was “not a normal case”; therefore, he needed to examine the related documents.
Why the change in stand?
It is learnt that legal experts consulted by Khan informed him that the choice of ministers was the discretion of the chief minister, and that the Governor had nothing to do with the choice other than facilitating the swearing-in.
The state secretariat of Kerala’s ruling CPI(M) had already given the nod to the chief minister to re-induct Cherian into the Cabinet after the Kerala High Court dismissed two pleas that wanted to disqualify him as a legislator over his controversial speech that insulted the Constitution of India.
The petitioner claimed before the court that Cherian’s actions attracted disqualification under Section 9 of the Representation of the People Act of 1951.
The Cherian saga
Cherian was forced to quit the Cabinet on 6 July after his anti-Constitution remarks caused an uproar.
In his public address at Mallappally, Cherian claimed that the Constitution was prepared as directed by the British and that it wasn’t meant to protect the commoners.
Cherian said: “The words ‘secularism’ and ‘democracy’ have been thrown around. But the Constitution is being used to exploit commoners.”
Cherian represents the Chengannur constituency in the Kerala Assembly.
He, however, claimed back then that the decision to step down was personal and not forced upon him.
“I decide it is not right for me to continue as a minister. Hence, I’m resigning from my ministership,” Cherian had said.
“I understand that the chief minister sought the legal advice of the Advocate General on my speech. I don’t know what advice he received, but I’ve taken a personal decision and have communicated the same to the chief minister,” he said.
Cherian refused to apologise but reiterated that his words were taken out of context. He claimed he did not say anything in violation of the law or the Constitution.
“You (media) kept saying that I said something unconstitutional. In order to uphold the dignity of my party, I did not hang on to my post and resigned in the face of the allegations against me,” he said.
Cherian further said that the Kerala High Court on 8 December dismissed two pleas seeking a declaration that he was not entitled to hold the office of MLA given his speech.
A division bench of the Kerala High Court headed by Chief Justice S Manikumar had held that no provision could be found in the Representation of People Act, 1951, to disqualify the MLA.
Referring to the verdict, Cherian said it proved that he had committed no illegality and, therefore, could continue as an MLA. “Then, why cannot an MLA become a minister?” he asked.
He also claimed that there were no pending cases against him in any court in the state.
Meanwhile, the Congress continued to oppose the decision to reinduct Cherian into the Cabinet.
Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly and Congress veteran VD Satheesan said the decision to reinduct the CPI(M) leader was “unethical”.
He also questioned the logic behind the decision and said the Opposition was not going to accept it.
“We will strongly oppose it and even adopt legal recourse,” he said, adding that no one from the UDF would attend the swearing-in ceremony.
Why did he resign if he said nothing in violation of the law or the Constitution, Satheesan asked.
The Congress and the BJP criticised the CPI(M) decision to reinstate the legislator as a minister, and termed the move as unacceptable and anti-constitutional.
The Congress even said it would observe 4 January as a “Black Day”.
(With PTI inputs)