Kerala: VCs of nine universities snub Governor Khan, refuse to resign by 11.30 am deadline

VCs approach Kerala High Court, even as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan accuses Governor Khan of unconstitutional actions.

ByK A Shaji

Published Oct 24, 2022 | 1:53 PMUpdatedOct 24, 2022 | 1:53 PM

Arif Mohammad Khan Kerala Governor

In a major snub to Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, not one of the nine vice-chancellors (VCs) directed by him to put in their papers by 11.30 am on Monday, 24 October, obliged him with resignations.

All nine VCs, in fact, reached Kochi and approached the Kerala High Court in a bid to defuse the Governor’s unprecedented directive, even as Kerala’s ruling LDF went on the offensive against Khan, with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself leading the charge, accusing him of pushing a BJP-RSS agenda.

Earlier in the day, the VCs are understood to have consulted the advocate general and other legal experts on how to respond in the event the Governor presses ahead in his war with the state government and terminates them from service using his powers as Chancellor of the universities.

Based on the legal advice, the VCs approached the high court, pointing out alleged lapses and vendetta on the part of the Governor.

Justice Devan Ramachandran of Kerala High Court will hold a special sitting at 4 pm on Monday on the plea by VCs facing dismissal.

The court’s hearing will be keenly watched.

What did Khan do? And next steps

It was late on Sunday that Governor Khan issued his bombshell of a directive to the nine VCs to resign, citing a recent Supreme Court directive setting aside the appointment of Dr MS Rajashree as VC of the APJ Abdul Kalam Technology University of Kerala.


Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Governor Arif Muhammed Khan. (KB Jayachandran/South First)

Khan said all the other VCs, too, were appointed in violation of University Grants Commission (UGC) norms.

In the meantime, the Governor’s office has indicated that there would no backtracking on his decision to replace the VCs with those considered qualified under UGC norms.’

Raj Bhavan sources said the Governor would choose “eligible” persons for the posts through Selection Committees to be constituted as per UGC norms.

Moreover, the sources said, the Governor is planning to issue a similar directive to the VCs of Kerala Digital University and Sree Narayana Open University, asking them to step down.

They have VCs appointed directly by the state government before the universities won UGC recognition.

The nine universities

Vice-chancellors Dr VP Mahadevan Pillai (University of Kerala), Dr Sabu Thomas (Mahatma Gandhi University), Dr KN Madhusoodanan (Cochin University of Science and Technology), Dr Riji John (Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies), Dr Gopinath Ravindran (Kannur University), MS Rajasree (APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University), Dr MV Narayanan (Sree Sankaracharya Sanskrit University), Dr MK Jayaraj (University of Calicut) and Dr V Anil Kumar (Thunchathezhuthachan Malayalam University) would have to resign based on the governor’s directive.

All nine universities come under the state’s Department of High Education.

Vijayan launches counter-attack

At a press conference in Palakkad on Monday morning, Chief Minister Vijayan came down heavily on Governor Khan’s directive, terming it as anti-constitutional and anti-democratic.

Governor Khan

Governor Arif Mohammad Khan with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and former assembly speaker P Sreeramakrishnan. (KB Jayachandran/South First)

He has also questioned the urgency and the enthusiasm behind the directive.

“There is no doubt that Khan is acting at the behest of the BJP and the RSS to create a constitutional crisis in Kerala. Khan is misusing the apex court’s complete order in the technology university issue to interfere in the matters of other universities in the state,” he charged.

“Anyone with basic common sense can understand that a court’s verdict applies to that particular case. It must not be applied to curtail the functioning of other universities,” Vijayan said.

“The Governor should remember that, as Chancellor of state universities, he too played a role in appointing the vice-chancellors. If it is found that rules are flouted, then he is also to be blamed. In any case, the matter of Technological University should not impede on other universities,” Vijayan said.

Vijayan also pointed out that the apex court had not said MS Rajashree was not academically fit to hold such a position.

“The court has only said there were some irregularities in the appointment process. There is time still to rectify that,” Vijayan said.

“Governor Khan must know better than to wield the court’s order to attack our universities and, by extension, the government. He must also remember that this LDF government is a democratically-elected one. His unwanted barrage against the government will be met with equal measures,” Vijayan warned.

History of discord

The Governor and the ruling LDF have been at loggerheads for some time now, especially over what the latter says is Khan’s interference in appointments to universities that come under the state’s Higher Education Department.

Khan, as Governor, is Chancellor of all the state universities.

The beginnings of the animosity can be traced to the inaugural ceremony of the Indian History Congress held in Kannur University on 28 December, 2019, where Khan was heckled for towing the Centre’s line on the controversial CAA and NRC.

Khan’s prime target was Vijayan’s private secretary former Rajya Sabha member KK Ragesh who, he alleged, was part of a larger conspiracy to intimidate him at the Indian History Congress.

It may be recalled that the current tussle between the government and the Governor began when the Kannur University attempted to appoint Ragesh’s wife, Priya Varghese, as an associate professor in the Malayalam Department. Using his position as Chancellor of the university, the Governor declared the appointment null and void.

An amended law

In response, the Kerala Assembly in September called a special session to amend a law and curb Khan’s powers as Chancellor of universities in the state.

Khan has clearly said there would not be any gubernatorial endorsement of the legislation.