New flashpoint in Kerala: Governor Khan seeks resignations of 9 VCs, on collision course with ruling LDF

Sources in the LDF told South First that the nine VCs have been asked not to comply with Governor Khan's order.

ByK A Shaji

Published Oct 23, 2022 | 9:27 PMUpdatedOct 23, 2022 | 9:27 PM

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan. (Supplied)

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan stepped up his offensive against the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government on Sunday, 23 October, when, in an unprecedented move, he ordered the vice-chancellors of nine universities in the state to resign by 11.30 am on Monday.

The CPI(M), the largest constituent in the LDF which has been accusing Khan of implementing the “Sangh Parivar agenda” in the state, has termed the move a deliberate bid to tarnish Kerala society.

And according to a top source in the government, the nine VC s have been unofficially told not to comply with the Governor’s directive — a clear sign that the crisis will rapidly escalate.

Khan, the Chancellor of all universities, cited a Supreme Court directive that had set aside the appointment of Dr MS Rajashree as the vice-chancellor of the APJ Abdul Kalam Technology of Kerala to demand the resignations.

He said all other vice-chancellors, too, were appointed in violation of the University Grants Commission (UGC) norms. The apex court had issued the directive on Friday, 21 October.

The affected 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 these nine universities come under the state’s Department of High Education.

Kannur VC defiant

Kannur VC Dr Gopinath Ravindran, who has a history of run-ins with Governor Khan, told reporters that he would not resign, and dared the Governor to expel him from the office of the vice-chancellor if he so wanted.

Khan has time and again alleged that Ravindran instigated heckling against him at Kannur University on 28 December, 2019, when he arrived there to inaugurate the 80th edition of the Indian History Congress.

Over 50 historians took up cudgels against Khan when he called Ravindran a criminal.

They said in a statement that Ravindran was “one of India’s leading historians, with a particular specialisation in the agrarian history of Kerala and historical demography”.

They added that the “false, defamatory, and politically motivated campaign” against the vice-chancellor by Khanwas “unacceptable”.

“The Governor must stop this harassment of a distinguished historian and vice-chancellor immediately,” they said in the statement issued through Prof Amar Farooqui of the Department of History at the University of Delhi.

Related: 50 historians slam Khan for attack on Kannur University VC

Khan quotes the Supreme Court

In his directive, Governor Khan quoted from the Supreme Court verdict and said that the “appointment of vice-chancellor based on a single name recommended by the committee for an appointment instead of a panel of names is illegal, and cannot be sustained.”

The Supreme Court verdict would be applicable to other universities also, the directive said. The Governor further pointed out that any Search Committee constituted in violation of the provisions of the UGC regulations was illegal, and appointing a vice-chancellor based on its recommendations was void ab initio (no legal effect).

“If there is any conflict between the state legislation and the Union legislation, the Union law shall prevail even as per Article 254 of the Constitution of India to the extent that the provisions of the state legislation are repugnant,” the governor quoted.

The governor said he found all the nine vice-chancellors “ineligible” to continue in office. He said appointments made in breach of law should be rectified, and new appointments would be made in accordance with the law.

Khan a trumpeter of RSS-BJP: CPI(M)

The Raj Bhavan issued the order hours after the LDF had announced an all-Kerala campaign against the Governor on November 15.

Responding to the development, the state secretariat of the CPI(M) termed the Governor “a trumpeter of BJP-RSS”, and said that the people must confront and protest his deliberate attempts to insult Kerala society.

The secretariat viewed the governor’s move as part of an attempt to saffronise the state’s education system.

“The Governor has exceeded all limits of decency and decorum,” it said in a statement.

The party secretariat claimed that the state government had appointed the vice-chancellors in accordance with the existing laws, and there was nothing wrong with the appointments.

Related: LDF-Khan war escalates, this time over Kerala University

The Supreme Court case

On Friday, a Supreme Court bench comprising justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar pronounced the verdict in a petition filed by Professor Dr PS Sreejith, challenging the appointment of Dr Rajashree at the Abdul Kalam University.

The court issued a writ of quo warranto against Dr Rajashree after setting aside her appointment as null and void. Sreejith contended that the appointment had violated UGC stipulations.

One of the arguments raised was that the Search Committee had not recommended a panel of three names as vice-chancellor as per UGC norms. Dr Sreejith approached the Supreme Court challenging the judgments of the single bench and a division bench of the Kerala High Court, which had dismissed his petitions.

Allowing the appeal filed by Sreejith, the Supreme Court held the judgments of the high court unsustainable.

Professor Dr Sreejith had applied for the post of vice-chancellor of APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University. The state had advertised and invited applications for the post twice.

The petitioner’s name was in the shortlist prepared after the first notification.

A second notification was issued in December 2018 after the Search Committee was dissolved. His name was missing from the list prepared after the second notification, and he came to know through media reports that the chancellor had appointed Dr Rajashree as the vice-chancellor on 19 February, 2019.

He filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, and found several violations that could make the selection invalid. One among them was the composition of the Search Committee, which bypassed the mandatory requirements laid under Regulation 7.3.0 (ii) of the UGC Regulations, 2010.