Kannur: Kerala Governor Arif Muhammed Khan cut short his inaugural speech at the 80th Indian History Congress at Kannur after a third of the delegates raised a spirited protest against his advocacy of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Khan had made many comments over the last week in support of the act prompting both the ruling LDF and the opposition UDF to slam him for "being an agent of the central government."
Khan courted trouble when he raked up the issue as a prelude to his prepared speech at the Kannur University. As the delegates rose with placards carrying anti-CAA slogans, historian Irfan Habib joined them from the dais. Khan should stop quoting Gandhi and draw from Gandhi assassin Godse to justify his comments, Habib told the governor point-blank.
Khan’s inaugural speech was preceded by a speech by K K Ragesh, MP, who said that the present rulers were trying to rewrite history to suit their communal agenda. The CPM representative in the Rajya Sabha said that the people who had no role to play in the freedom movement and those who danced to the tunes of the British oppressors were trying to distort history on the basis of myths.
University syndicate member Biju Kandakai said that India was witnessing the largest deconstruction of history and called upon the Indian History Congress to condemn moves to weaken the Constitution.
The governor tried to defend the BJP-led government at the Centre and discredit the protestors against the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens. He said that he could not shy away from talking politics as he was someone who started his parliamentary career at the age of 26. He said that he was sworn in on the Constitution and duty-bound to protect it and even claimed that he had rejected positions of power at junctures when the Constitution was deemed to be in danger.
Recalling the protests against his stands at the Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram and later in Kozhikode, he said that none of them had responded to his invitation for a debate on the issue. Both parties should talk to each other to find a solution but the protesters are not interested in a debate, he said.
He also said that he had extended similar invitations to people who disagreed with him even before Gandhi was killed. Nobody responded and Gandhi was killed eventually. He said shutting the door on debate was akin to encouraging violence.
He said that the people of Kerala had not experienced the miseries of Partition yet stood in solidarity with their neighbours in distress. He said that he learned that Pakistani cricketer Danish Kaneria faced discrimination in his country as he was a Hindu.
When delegates in the front row stood up with placards, the police tried to whisk them away. The situation snowballed when more delegates rose to their feet. Even Irfan Habib called out the governor despite attempts by Kannur University vice chancellor Gopinath Raveendran to pacify him.
The governor then offered to stick to his prepared speech but the protests continued unabated. He left the venue without completing his speech.
The police rounded up several protesting delegates but released them soon after. The Indian History Congress organisers condemned the police action against the right to protest. The police had detained activists from the Youth Congress and the Kerala Students Union who protested against the governor on his arrival at the venue.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act makes it easier for minorities from India's Muslim majority neighbours - Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan - who settled before 2015 to get citizenship but does not make the same concessions for Muslims. Critics say the law - and plans for a national citizenship register - discriminate against Muslims and are an attack on the country's secular constitution by the Narendra Modi government.