Chief Minister Vijayan, Governor Khan, and minority politics in Kerala

By opening the new war-front with the Governor, Pinarayi Vijayan conveys to minorities that he is better equipped than Congress to take on BJP-RSS.

ByK A Shaji

Published Dec 20, 2023 | 11:00 AMUpdatedDec 20, 2023 | 11:28 AM

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

Soon after the BJP won the Assembly elections held in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan alleged that he doubts the credentials of the Congress as the “single largest secular party in the country”, which can cripple the growth of majority communalism.

A senior member of the CPI(M) politburo, Vijayan also opined that it would be better if Rahul Gandhi leaves his Wayanad constituency in Kerala to a key constituency in the Hindi belt to ensure a direct fight with the BJP-RSS with the support of the combined Opposition.

In Wayanad, the BJP’s presence is negligible and Rahul’s presence there would eclipse the chances of the CPI(M) and other constituents of Kerala’s ruling LDF in all other 19 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.

Pandering to the minority

For the past two weeks, Vijayan has been using his ongoing Nava Kerala Sadas to reach all corners of the state and tell the people that the Congress is a big failure in taking on the might of the BJP-RSS.

Revealing his poll strategy, Vijayan also uses these platforms to tell the people that, at least in Kerala, the parties have the guts to fight the BJP from the front.

Now, his motive is loud and clear: Vijayan wants the support of Muslims, who constitute 26.56 percent of the state’s population, and Christians, who constitute 18.38 percent in the Lok Sabha election, to get the LDF candidates to win with at least thin majorities.

He knows clearly that the LDF has nothing other than the minority card to play in the fast-approaching Lok Sabha elections.

Now, the ongoing public spat involving Vijayan and Governor Arif Mohammad Khan is marking a new low in their already-frosty relationship, but the former finds it as another context to claim the custodianship for secular politics, at least in Kerala.

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

SFI leads the charge

Where the Congress and its UDF alliance partners are nowhere in sight against the attempts of Khan to fill senates of state universities in Kerala with nominees of the ABVP and BJP-RSS, Vijayan has ensured a strong rebellion against the Governor using SFI, the student wing of his party.

While Congress’ student union, the KSU, was groping in the dark about the issue, SFI took centre stage in the protests against Khan, who, according to Vijayan and other LDF leaders, is engaged in a process to saffronise the higher education sector in the state.

While SFI emerges as the rallying point for those who raise their voice against the alleged saffronisation of the education sector by the government, Vijayan, his Cabinet colleagues, and other leaders of the LDF are vociferous that they and their feeder organisations are better equipped than the Opposition to fight the Governor, “who is now behaving almost like a henchman of the BJP-RSS”.

Though the general public has reservations against some of the violent modes of agitation of SFI targeting the Governor, the Vijayan-led government hopes the feeder organisation helps it reach out to minorities and different secular and political groups opposed to the BJP-RSS.

Also, the campaign is helping the LDF effectively hide the allegations of nepotism it faced in the last seven years related to nominations and recruitments in universities.

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

Cornering of Congress

Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan’s allegation that Khan and Vijayan are playing a cat and mouse game at the behest of the Narendra Modi regime at the Centre to weaken the Congress in the state is failing to find many takers.

Moreover, LDF circles are citing a recent statement by Congress working committee member Shashi Tharoor extending strong support to the Governor and denouncing SFI for its violent agitations.

The LDF circles are asking why Tharoor didn’t utter a single word against Khan’s nomination of ABVP leaders to the senates of Kerala and Calicut universities in vacancies reserved for talents from the arts and sports segments.

The LDF is calculating that the cornering of Congress over its approach towards Khan will land the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second-largest constituent of the UDF, in a difficult situation. The IUML is asking the Congress to be more firm and stern in its attack on the BJP-RSS.

Also Read: ‘Criminal mindset’, ‘insane’: Personal attacks fly between Kerala CM and Governor

No respite for Khan in sight

In the meantime, the LDF leadership has sent a message to the whole ruling front machinery, stating that there will be no compromise with Khan in the coming days.

They hope to re-escalate the fight with the Governor after Christmas break and the conclusion of the Nava Kerala Sadas.

While the yatra concludes in Thiruvananthapuram on 23 December, the Cabinet would urge the Governor to issue a proclamation to convene the Budget session of the state Assembly by the second week of January.

It is customary for the Governor to read a prepared speech to start the Budget session. Normally, the state Cabinet prepares the draft speech and, in all likelihood, it would contain scathing attacks on the Union government and also on the Governor.

If the Governor skips such controversial portions or refuses to read the entire speech, such an instance would mark yet another conflict ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The Assembly, itself, would turn a platform for the ruling front to come down heavily on the Governor, who incidentally is the head of the state.

On the other hand, there are possibilities of Khan ignoring the prepared text and making an independent speech of his own, attacking the Chief Minister and the ruling front.

Also Read: Khan takes on students’ union, says he will stay in university campus

BJP high commands sits silent

Meanwhile, the national leadership of the BJP has instructed its state unit not to engage in any activity that openly extends support to the Governor’s actions against the Vijayan government.

The national leadership is of the view that the Governor has all constitutional rights and privileges to fight the state government in ways that he deems fit. The ongoing retaliations Khan has experienced in Kerala’s courts as a result of developments in the higher education sector are another cause for concern.

Though he later opposed the appointment, Khan sided with Vijayan and his Cabinet in deputising historian Gopinath Raveendran as Vice-Chancellor of Kannur University. Finally, the Supreme Court snubbed him for that.

After filling of senate vacancies in the two universities, Khan faced criticism from the high court, which stayed the controversial nominations.