The claws remain out as divide deepens between Kerala’s Governor and Pinarayi government

SFI waves black flags before the Governor's motorcade once again as Khan says he has begun the process of appointing VCs for 8 state universities.

ByK A Shaji

Published Dec 29, 2023 | 1:28 PMUpdatedDec 29, 2023 | 1:28 PM

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Governor Arif Mohammad Khan.

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan’s assertion of authority in the affairs of Kerala’s state universities has further intensified tensions, as the ruling CPI(M)’s student wing, SFI, staged another black-flag protest upon his return from Delhi on Thursday, 28 December — effectively throwing the chances of a truce between him and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan out the window.

Governor Khan, who was spending Christmas-New Year in the national capital, arrived in Thiruvananthapuram — at the behest of the Pinarayi Vijayan-government — to administer oaths to designated ministers, KB Ganesh Kumar and Ramachandran Kadannapalli.

The Governor will return to Delhi after the swearing-in ceremony at the Raj Bhavan complex, where he has also arranged a high tea for the Chief Minister and his revamped Cabinet.

SFI’s black flag protest signals no truce

There was an impression, until Thursday evening, that the Governor and the ruling dispensation were backing down from their aggressive posturing, but the SFI protest proved that the CPI(M) was not in a mood for any rapprochement with the Governor, whom it accuses of advancing the Sangh Parivar agenda in the state’s higher education sector.

Political observers are certain that the SFI would not initiate the protest without the approval of the party supremos, especially after he reached the state on the government’s request to preside over the swearing-in of the new Cabinet ministers.

Though police arrested all the SFI workers who waved black flags at Governor Khan, they were released on station bail soon after.

The only difference this time was that the state government had ensured heavy police escort to the Governor from the airport to Raj Bhavan in a bid to avoid a repeat of the incident last week where black flag-waving SFI activists hit the Governor’s official car, prompting him to get out and confront them.

Also Read: Waves of black at Calicut University as SFI steps up protest against Kerala Governor 

Governor defiant amidst accusations

When reporters asked Governor Khan whether the swearing-in would be an occasion for him to negotiate with the state government, he ignored the questions. Instead, he told them that he had started the process of appointing Vice-Chancellors for eight universities in the state by asking each university to constitute search committees to prepare the panels.

“All the universities in Kerala are currently having an ad hoc arrangement. I am well within my powers to choose Vice-Chancellors. In its order against the reappointment of the Kannur University Vice-Chancellor, the Supreme Court upheld the Chancellor’s powers to appoint Vice-Chancellors. The government, including the Higher Education Minister and the Pro-Chancellor, will not have any say in the matter,” Khan said, indicating his intention to end the existing CPI(M) control over university affairs.

The Kerala High Court is set to address a petition by educationist Prof Mary George on 12 January 2024, seeking permanent appointments for Vice-Chancellors in all state universities, effectively ending the ad hoc mechanism. Governor Khan aims to initiate the selection process before the court’s decision.

Also Read: Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan seeks evidence on crisis caused by him

Vacant VC posts 

Vice-Chancellor posts are currently vacant at Kerala University, Mahatma Gandhi University, CUSAT, Kannur University, Kerala Agricultural University, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University, and Digital University Kerala.

The selection committees will comprise nominees from each university, along with representatives of the Governor in his capacity as Chancellor and the University Grants Commission (UGC). In a possible dispute, the majority can complete the selection process.

The CPI(M) and SFI are worried that Sangh Parivar candidates would emerge as Vice-Chancellors in all these universities as the nominees put forth by the Governor and the UGC can decide the final candidates purely based on the majority.

Though the state government passed separate Bills removing the Governor from the post of Chancellor and expanding the number of members in the select committee to five — involving more nominees of the state government — both Bills remained idle for over a year at the Raj Bhavan, with the Governor choosing to ignore them.

They have been forwarded to the President of India, but there is no guarantee when the President will decide on their future. Now, the government wants to continue with the ad hoc mechanism, at least until the high court considers the petition.

Also Read: ‘Collapse of Constitutional machinery,’ says Kerala Governor

‘Nominations based on merit’

When reporters pointed out that the police had arrested the ABVP worker he had nominated for the Kerala University Senate on charges of attempted homicide on rival SFI cadres, Governor Khan claimed that he was not aware of the development.

He also questioned SFI’s authority to raise such issues by alleging that state SFI President PM Arsho, who orchestrated the protests against him, was accused in 48 police cases.

When asked why he had nominated “Sangh Parivar” loyalists to the Senates of Kerala and Calicut universities, the Governor said he had named people based on merit, not politics. “I also nominated a few people recommended by the media. They were well-thought-out and studied decisions I took based on reports from varied sources and after much deliberation,” the Governor added.

In the meantime, Governor Khan reiterated his allegation that lawlessness and violence prevailed in the state under the rule of Pinarayi Vijayan.

“Not even the head of state is safe. SFI activists attempted to ambush my car three times on my way to the airport from Raj Bhavan. They mobbed my vehicle and inflicted damage. The police have not booked all of them or slapped charges for destruction of public property on them. The demonstrators fled when I stepped out of my vehicle to confront them. I will do the same if they (SFI) attempt to block my vehicle again,” Khan said.

Also Read: Personal attacks fly thick and fast between Kerala CM, Governor

SFI black banners against Khan to remain

Meanwhile, Left-affiliated members of the Kerala University Syndicate directed its ad hoc Vice-Chancellor, Dr Mohanan Kunnummal, against removing the hoardings and black banners raised on campuses by SFI using foul language against the Governor.

The members claimed that implementing Khan’s removal order would lead to campus unrest. They also came down heavily on the Vice-Chancellor.

As Chancellor, the Governor’s nomination of four ABVP leaders to the varsity Senate had also invited criticism from the Syndicate members.

The Kerala High Court had recently stayed the Governor’s nominations on a petition filed by the students who were not chosen to the Senate.

The Syndicate members alleged that the Vice-Chancellor needed to give a comprehensive list of students with outstanding academic abilities in Humanities and Sciences and outstanding ability in Sports and Fine Arts to the Governor for selection.