On November 30, the Supreme Court delivered a verdict that should have made Governor Arif Mohammad Khan feel triumphant. It quashed the reappointment of Prof Gopinath Ravindran, a candidate the Governor had deeply detested, as the Vice Chancellor of Kannur University.
Even then, it was the Governor who had to face embarrassing questions. As it turned out, Gopinath Ravindran's reappointment was invalidated not for any of the reasons the Governor had given for his objection to Ravindran's second term; doing away with the selection process, and violation of UGC norms.
Instead, it was the Governor's abdication of responsibility that led to quashing of the reappointment. The apex court said that the Governor "merely rubber-stamped" the government's decision without any independent application of mind. The verdict made Arif Mohammad Khan look lik a stooge of the LDF government.
On Wednesday, the Governor did try to convey that he was not rubberstamping as the SC had accused him of. "I succumbed to the pressure only because I was given the opinion of the Advocate General. Political pressure I would have resisted," the Governor told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram. He said it was to the AG that he went when he was faced with legal complexities. "The AG's is the highest legal office," the Governor said.
But the Supreme Court had made it clear that in the selection of the Vice Chancellor, the Chancellor is the sole judge and the last word.
The advice given by the AG was that the VC selection process, which was already set in motion by the Governor, could be done away with.
The Governor was unhappy with the advice but still reappointed Gopinath Ravindran. But the Supreme Court did not find anything wrong with the AG's advice. Yet, the SC verdict clearly hinted that if the Governor had a different opinion, he was free to set aside even the AG's opinion.
It could be why he quickly deflected a question of whether he would take legal action against the AG who had misled him. "I am not here to settle scores with anyone," the Governor said and swiftly changed the subject.
He said he wanted to make an appeal to the Chief Minister. "Do not talk to me through the media," he said. His provocation: News reports that said that the Governor had held back two ordinances. "When I checked, I found that they (the two ordinances) had come to the Raj Bhavan only about two-and-a-half weeks ago," the Governor said. "My request to him (the Chief Minister) is not to talk to me through the media. I cordially invite him to come to the Raj Bhavan, and explain to me the urgency of any bill or ordinance," he said.
Then he sprang a surprise. Arif Mohammad Khan revived an old issue that had enraged the Sangh Parivar forces last year and slipped into political rhetoric. "But at the same time, the Chief Minister must ensure that his supporters do not thrash the Constitution, that they do not describe Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK) as Azad Kashmir, and that they do not try to stoke the fires of separatism and regionalism. These are anti-Constitutional activities that pose a danger to the unity and integrity of the country," he said.
This was a reference to the 'Azad Kashmir' remark made by LDF Independent and former minister K T Jaleel in his Facebook post in August 2022. Here is what Jaleel wrote on FB after his visit to Jammu and Kashmir last year: "The part of Kashmir annexed to Pakistan was known as ‘Azad Kashmir’. It was an area not directly influenced by the Pakistani government. Pakistan only controlled currency and military aid. Azad Kashmir had its own army. The unified army became the common army of Azad Kashmir during Zia ul Haq’s presidency."
When there was a huge backlash from the BJP, Jaleel said that he had only sympathy for those who do not understand the meaning of Azad Kashmir when it is written within inverted commas.