Kerala’s frosty relationship with Raj Bhavan hits a new low as Governor Khan cuts short policy speech, reads last para and leaves

Officials say the Governor's action reflected his animosity towards the government, and there is no constitutional crisis as the whole speech would be treated as read out by the Governor.

ByK A Shaji

Published Jan 25, 2024 | 11:56 AMUpdatedJan 25, 2024 | 12:34 PM

Pinarayi Khan

In an unprecedented move in the Kerala Assembly, Governor Arif Mohammad Khan cut short his customary address to the House to less than two minutes on Thursday, 25 January, reading out only the last paragraph of the speech, marking the beginning of the Budget session.

The Governor’s move reflected the frosty relationship between the LDF government and the Raj Bhavan hitting an all-time low. Though it was earlier speculated that the speech — drafted and forwarded to the Raj Bhavan in advance — might include a scathing attack on the Union government and the Governor, the 63-page document was mild in tone and devoid of any criticism of Khan.

The speech was less critical of the Union government, and it was largely confined to the alleged discrimination the state was facing. Government sources said the draft speech was handed over to the Governor two days in advance, and unlike in the past two years, he approved the speech without suggesting any amendments.

In previous years, Khan had expressed displeasure over portions criticising the Union government and the political positions of the BJP-RSS. This time, the draft speech did not mention any vexed political issues.

According to rules and practice, the Governor must read out the policy address in the Assembly on the first day of the Budget session, and the Cabinet-drafted speech would normally highlight the government’s priorities for the next financial year.

Legislators officially confirmed that Khan’s speech would be marked in history as the shortest-ever policy speech by a Governor in the country. After reading the salutation, the Governor said he was going to the last paragraph.

Also Read: Divide deepens between Kerala’s Governor and Pinarayi government

Over in 1 minute, 15 seconds

Interestingly, the concluding paragraph had an indirect dig at the Union government over the consecration of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. It said good governance must reflect larger social goals than promoting feelings of any particular religious outfit.

The Governor’s address lasted one minute and 15 seconds, and Khan left the Assembly after the national anthem was played. In the history of the Kerala Assembly, this was the most dramatic address ever.

Speaker AN Shamseer, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and others waiting to welcome Governor Arif Mohammad Khan to the Assembly on Thursday. (Supplied)

Speaker AN Shamseer, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and others waiting to welcome Governor Arif Mohammad Khan to the Assembly on Thursday. (Supplied)

Khan was escorted out of the Assembly hall less than two minutes after he had been welcomed into the House.

Meanwhile, government circles, which were anticipating a gubernatorial snub, felt the Governor had boycotted “his government”.

If he had he read the speech, Khan would have to say ‘”my government” repeatedly. He was in no mood for it. The Governor did not bother to address the members before he began the speech.

As the Governor had already said that he would abide by his Constitutional duties, some in the government expected a smooth start to the Budget session. The Assembly secretariat clarified that Khan’s skipping most portions of the speech would not create any legal problems as the laws do not make it mandatory for the Governor to read the entire speech.

As he read out the concluding part, the legislature would treat that the Governor had ratified the entire speech as the constitutional head of the state. Governor Khan approved the draft of his policy address at the commencement of the 10th session of the 15th Kerala Assembly on Thursday.

Though the chief minister welcomed Khan to the Assembly by handing over a bouquet, Khan chose not to make any friendly gesture to Vijayan.

Also Read: SC criticises Kerala Governor Khan for sitting on Bills for two years

Khan insulted the people, says Opposition

He looked indifferent and even refrained from smiling. When the Governor entered the Assembly hall, the Opposition Congress members asked loudly whether all differences between the Governor and the government had been sorted out and whether they had reached a “deal”.

Khan stared at them, visibly expressing his displeasure.

Later, Opposition leader VD Satheesan accused the Governor of disrespecting the Assembly and its members by refusing to read the entire speech. He asked why Khan had not read out the speech as it contained nothing critical against him or the Union government. He accused the Governor and the government of insulting the self-respect of the people of the state.

Meanwhile, amidst the drama, the government sanctioned ₹20 lakh to the Governor on Thursday to hold a Republic Day party at the Raj Bhavan.

Khan also drew the ire of CPI(M) and its student wing SFI after allegedly bypassing the Senate to nominate Sangh Parivar representatives to the university Syndicates in the state. Their disapproval manifested in aggressive black flag protests that provoked  Khan to leave his car and confront the demonstrators in Thiruvananthapuram in December last.

He also defied the protesters by visiting the busy SM Market in Kozhikode without a police escort.

Khan had also dared the SFI by camping in the Calicut University campus for two days amidst belligerent protests and banners screaming, “Governor go back”.

He had repeatedly accused Chief Minister Vijayan of abetting the protests and plotting to endanger him physically.

More recently, CPI(M) activists marched to Raj Bhavan to highlight  Khan’s delay in signing the Land Assignment (Amendment) Bill passed by the Assembly. The Bill proposed more freedom for settler farmers to use the assigned land for non-agricultural purposes, including the construction of houses and commercial buildings.

Khan’s decision to reserve the University Laws (Amendment) Bill and Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Bill for presidential assent forced the CPI(M) to take on him directly.

The University Bill proposed to remove the Governor as Chancellor of state-funded universities. The Lok Ayukta Bill reportedly stripped the anti-graft body of many of its powers.