Governor Khan, Chief Minister Vijayan and Kerala’s most hated mode of protest, the waving of black flags

Recently, Arif Mohammed Khan got out of his car en route to the airport and confronted black flag-waving SFI activists, calling them 'goondas'.

ByK A Shaji

Published Dec 12, 2023 | 5:27 PMUpdatedDec 12, 2023 | 5:43 PM

Governor Khan after moving out of his car

The Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the feeder organisation of Kerala’s ruling CPI(M), declared on Tuesday, 12 December, that it would not allow Governor Arif Mohammad Khan to enter any of the universities or affiliated colleges in the state in his capacity as the Chancellor.

The statement came a day after Khan got out of his car en route to the airport in Thiruvananthapuram and confronted black flag-waving activists of the SFI, terming them “goondas” sent by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to hurt him physically.

Despite being almost cornered by the latest developments that pushed the conflict between Khan and Vijayan to an all-time low, the powerful student organisation declared that it would physically prevent the Governor from entering higher education institutions, apart from continuing to wave black flags at him.

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

SFI secretary Arsho reacts

Accusing the Governor of helping the BJP and the RSS hijack institutions of higher learning in the state, SFI state secretary PM Arsho told South First that there would be no going back from the stringent protests against Khan.

He said the agitation against the Governor had been necessitated by Khan’s recent filling of vacancies in the senates of Kerala and Calicut universities by nominating Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) leaders based on a list prepared by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sanfh (RSS). The ABVP is the student arm of the RSS.

Governor Arif Mohammad Khan

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan with Governor Arif Mohammed Khan. (South First)

Asked why the Governor’s convoy to the airport was attacked by the ruling party’s student wing and even his car was hit by its activists, Arsho blamed the “bourgeoise media” for blowing things out of proportion and helping the Governor take political advantage.

He asserted that the Governor would not be able travel in the state as before and would face protests if he continued to implement the “RSS-BJP” agenda in the higher education sector.

Arsho claimed the patience on the part of the SFI activists had averted any untoward incidents when the Governor dramatically stopped his vehicle in the middle of the road and got out of it, “showering threats” against the protestors.

He accused the Governor of moving out of the car by violating protocol and said that the SFI had not prevented the movement of his car. The activists only waved black flags against him.

Also Read: Yet another black flag waved at CM Pinarayi Vijayan

CPI(M) leaders accuse Khan of ‘publicity stunt’

Though the Governor continues to term the SFI activists who protested against him as “bloody criminals and fools” and invites national attention to the sequence of events, Vijayan, who is currently in the final phase of his statewide Nava Kerala Sadas, is keeping a studied silence over the latest developments.

Despite repeated questions from journalists during his press interaction in Idukki, Chief Minister Vijayan chose to ignore the subject.

Arif Mohammad Khan

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan with their families. (Supplied)

Meanwhile, his Cabinet colleagues KN Balagopal, P Rajeev, MB Rajesh, and AK Saseendran have launched a scathing attack on Khan, accusing him of engaging in publicity stunts.

They have all praised SFI for “maturely handling” Monday night’s confrontation with the Governor.

On Monday night, Khan told reporters that those who waved flags against him at three locations en route to the Thiruvananthapuram airport also tried to hit his car. He also wondered whether it was a democratic kind of protest.

“Will they allow anybody to go near Vijayan’s vehicle?” asked the Governor, recalling the violence unleashed on several occasions by CPI(M) activists and the police on those who waved black flags at Vijayan.

Terming the protestors as “bloody criminals”, Khan repeatedly alleged that the chief minister had hatched the conspiracy to attack his car to harm him physically.

He added that a similar incident took place some years ago in Kannur, where he arrived to inaugurate the Indian History Congress.

The Governor has said that he will not let the goons of Vijayan rule Thiruvananthapuram’s streets. Since the incident, police have arrested 19 SFI activists for banging on the Governor’s vehicle and other issues.

Also Read: Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan avoids all things black

Playing favourites?

The Kerala police and CPI(M) members brutally beat up protestors who waved black flags against Vijayan in the previous three years across Kerala.

The state’s civil society was in utter disbelief when the CPI(M) and its alliance partners in the state attempted to justify the waving of black flags against the Governor.

Even the chief minister justified the police action by saying they had engaged in a “life-saving mission” by protecting those who attempted to jump in front of his speeding vehicle.


Governor Arif Muhammed Khan. (South First)

As far as the police were concerned, each of those who waved black flags against Vijayan was charge-sheeted under stringent sections of the Indian Penal Code, including attempts to murder.

On Monday, a magistrate court at Perumbavoor in Ernakulam district asked the Kerala police how waving black flags and hurling shoes at the chief minister’s vehicle and his convoy would turn into an attempt to murder.

The judge was hearing the bail application moved by a set of Congress workers who waved black flags and hurled shoes at the chief minister’s convoy.

The court also advised the police to remember the need to guard the general public’s safety while being overly cautious about the safety of the chief minister and his Cabinet.

Highly placed police sources confirmed to South First that the FIR prepared against the SFI workers who targeted the Governor lacked stringent clauses like an attempt to murder.

It also did not mention the forcible halting of the Governor’s vehicle on the road or the hitting of its body by SFI workers. The Congress and the BJP in the Opposition are terming it a denial of equal justice.

Also read: ‘DYFI workers were saving lives of Youth Congress activists’ 

Protests against Governor

Governor Khan has faced SFI protests over the controversial appointments he made to the Kerala and Calicut universities’ senates for the last two weeks.

The Governor rejected the list submitted by the state government and unilaterally filled the vacancies based on the suggestions from the state unit of the BJP.

Even on Monday, Khan said, in Delhi, that the “poor police people” were helpless as the “goondas” were acting under the direction of Vijayan against him.

“They hit my car from both sides. Will they allow anybody to come near the Chief Minister’s car? Is it possible that protesters can bring their cars to the chief minister’s programme?” asked an emotionally charged Khan.

He had also used the occasion to recall an incident four years ago in Kannur, where historian Irfan Habib allegedly attacked him during the inauguration of the Indian History Congress. Even then, Khan said that an attempt was made against him physically.

“The constitutional machinery seems to be collapsing. It cannot be allowed. If he (the chief minister) disagrees with some things that I do, it doesn’t mean he can hatch conspiracies to hurt me physically,” said Khan.

Also read: I am not a rubber stamp or a yes man: Kerala Governor

Police security breach

Meanwhile, highly placed police sources told South First that the state intelligence wing had issued three warnings about the SFI’s plans to protest against the Kerala Governor on Monday.

The three warnings, issued in 24 hours, were about the display of black flags and a possible attack against the Governor.

Arif Mohammad Khan Kerala Governor

Kerala Governor Arif Muhammed Khan. (South First)

The last report — issued on Monday afternoon — also specified the likely places of protest. Although the report suggested that additional security should be provided to the Governor, the higher-ups in the police force ignored it.

In addition, the Intelligence Department found that the Governor’s travel route, which the city police commissioner had instructed to keep confidential, was leaked to the SFI on Monday morning by a leader of the police association owing allegiance to the ruling dispensation.

Sources said that the first intelligence report was given on Sunday evening, following the SFI’s protest against the Governor the previous day.

On Monday, it was recommended that a parallel route to the regular one should also be fixed for the Governor to travel to the airport. The city police commissioner sent a wireless message to police officers on duty to keep this a secret.

The second intelligence report, on Monday morning, indicated that the protest would intensify. In the third report, given in the afternoon, it was pointed out that there was a possibility of protests in three places, including near Palayam underpass and at Petta, and it was suggested that additional police personnel should be assigned to ensure security to the dignitary.

However, the police authorities did not take any precautions or additional security measures as suggested by the report.

On Monday morning, it was discovered that the top leader of the police association, who has been working in the State Special Branch for a long period, had leaked the Governor’s route details to the SFI leadership.

In the past, there were allegations that it was under the leadership of this same officer that Swapna Suresh, the prime accused in the gold smuggling case, was made to record an audio statement against the central investigation agencies.

Also read: ‘If govt wants swift action on Bills, it needs to explain urgency’

Tourism Minister Riyas reacts

Governor Khan

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

While Vijayan continues to keep mum over the issue, Tourism Minister PA Mohammed Riyas — the son-in-law of the chief minister — said the SFI was mainly indulging against the ongoing saffronisation taking place on college campuses, and that it should be given a handshake.

He also accused the Governor of breaching protocols and stooping to the level of a street fighter.

“Was it right for the Governor to step out of his car? Only after a report on the incident comes out will we be able to assess things,” said Riyas.

“The black flag protests that Khan and the chief minister faced should not be seen in the same light,” he added.

The minister also said that the security officials were shocked to see him stop his vehicle and step out to challenge the protesters. Losing his cool, Khan asked the police officials if this was the security cover given him.

Opposition leaders react

In the meantime, the Congress and the BJP came out with statements slamming the collapse of the law-and-order situation in Kerala.

Sources at the Raj Bhavan said that Khan, who reached Delhi on Monday night, would ask for a report from the Vijayan government, even when the central intelligence has already commenced a probe to submit its report to the Union Home Ministry.

The Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly, VD Satheesan, said that such allegations by a Governor against a chief minister were a first in the history of the state and questioned whether attempts to murder cases would be registered against the SFI activists who blocked the Governor’s vehicle.

Satheesan also took a dig at the chief minister by asking who should “rescue” the SFI activists who jumped in front of the Governor’s vehicle and waved black flags at him. Satheesan also accused Vijayan of having “double standards”.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief and MP K Sudhakaran said it was a “black day” for the state and that law and order have broken down as the Governor was allegedly “attacked” in the middle of the road.

He had also alleged that the SFI’s actions were with the knowledge of Vijayan. The KPCC chief further alleged that the police team accompanying the Governor “rescued and released” the SFI activists instead of protecting Khan.

He sought immediate and strict action against the police officers allegedly involved.

Sudhakaran also called the protesting SFI activists “Chavers” or suicide squads, a term that the Left Front used for the Youth Congress and KSU workers who waved black flags at the chief minister.

In Kerala, the Governor and the Chief Minister enjoy Z-category security. The question of who allowed the security breach of SFI activists hitting Khan’s car remains valid.