Governor should intervene if convinced of injustice: Sreedharan Pillai

PS Sreedharan Pillai.
PS Sreedharan Pillai.

PS Sreedharan Pillai took charge as the Governor of Goa in July 2021, after being the Governor in Mizoram for more than a year. The former state president of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala, Pillai had won recognition in political and social spheres before he was made the Governor of the northeastern state.

Pillai has been keenly watching the recent tussle between the state government and Arif Mohammed Khan, the Governor of Kerala that ended after the latter resumed his duties as the Chancellor. In a freewheeling conversation with Malayala Manorama in 'Crossfire', Governor Pillai opens up on a wide range of issues, including the bouquets and brickbats received while he was the BJP president in Kerala.

You had been the Governor of Mizoram for more than a year, and now, in Goa for the past six months. How do they compare?
Tourism is the major industry in both states. While people in Goa welcome tourism wholeheartedly, Mizoram has been suffering from the 'hangover' of its 35 years' armed struggle against India. The past has still been weighing down on many minds. Mizoram has huge tourism potential. But a majority there fear that tourist inflow would affect their culture.

People in both Goa and Mizoram have innate goodness in them. There are no friction or communal riots.

There was a recent instance of Mizoram boycotting the Republic Day celebrations. Are you satisfied with your efforts to bring the people there closer to the nationalist stream?
There was a total boycott of Republic Day in 2019, much to the chagrin of the country. If you check the photographs, you will even see posters saying "Hello China, bye-bye India." When I was sent to Mizoram in 2019-end, the Prime Minister told me not to pick up issues with the people, but to hold them closer. Christians form 88% of the population in Mizoram, and Buddhists, 9%. The present dispensation there had earlier fought against India.

They accepted the Indian Constitution and flag when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister. My appointment as the Governor was portrayed as the Centre forcing a Hindu fanatic on the state. But I visited all churches and orphanages there in a short period, uninvited. It took me closer to their hearts.

The current opposition leader there was a five-time chief minister of Mizoram. He is such a prominent personality, and he attended the launch of my book at the Raj Bhavan. His visit reflected the winds of change, and he termed me "the most affectionate Governor in the history of Mizoram." I am proud to recall that the 2020 Republic Day celebrations in Mizoram stood out due to the mass participation. It is not my achievement. It shows love begets love.

PS Sreedharan Pillai
The oath of office as Governor of Goa was administered to PS Sreedharan Pillai by Chief Justice of Bombay High Cour, Dipankar Dutta in July 2021. Photo: Manorama

There is a narrative that you were made the Governor of Goa with the upcoming polls in mind?
It is baseless. My old party, BJP, is in power in Goa, and more than half of the MLAs are Christians. The Church does not interfere in politics directly. But I indeed have close relations with the lone Archbishop of Goa.

The national chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, visited the Raj Bhavan recently. It was the first time a personality of such a stature visited the Raj Bhavan. The Cardinal told the media that he had a cordial relationship with the Governor. I am trying to be in good relations with everyone.

You have opined that though the Governor could not interfere in politics, he should be more proactive. How different are you from Goa's former Governors?
I visited about 85 places in the past six months and about half of the orphanages in the state. I visited six institutions run by the Missionaries of Charity as well. Though the Raj Bhavan has restricted visitors, people from these sections visited me. Organisations engaged in voluntary work unexpectedly visited me and presented me with the Red Ribbon Award. I have decided to visit the remaining villages in Goa in the next six months.

My predecessors here, too, might have done all these. Governors have limitations in engaging in activities outside the Raj Bhavan due to security reasons. Governors are not elected representatives like ministers, and hence I won't try to be a power centre. I have recommended certain changes in Sarkaria Commission recommendations regarding the functioning of Governors. I am not into a debate on whether the changes are right or wrong.

Goa, with a Christian population of more than 25%, has often been compared with Kerala. Do you find any similarities between the two states?
About 85-90% of Christians in Goa are Catholics. The Church has only one Bishop, and he is in total control. Unlike Kerala, Goa does not have different denominations dioceses or bishops. The Udayamperoor Synod (Synod of Diamper) was held (June 1599) based on the decision made in Goa. Goa is the only state that has a church as part of the Raj Bhavan, and Sunday Mass is being held here. Interestingly, the Governor oversees the Church.

How do you rate the Pramod Sawant government in Goa?
It won't be prudent on the Governor's part to evaluate the government.

You must be aware of the recent friction between the Raj Bhavan in Kerala and the state government. Do you face similar pressure?
I have a good, cordial relationship with the state government. I have never faced any pressure from the central government, and I don't think Raj Bhavan's in other states would face any such pressure. Accusations and counter-charges are normal in politics. But it's not prudent on the Governor's part to respond to all such accusations.

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan doesn't take the path less trodden. He ignores protocol, visits people on their birthdays, meets the media frequently. Could these be seen as changes in tune with the times?
I too do most of these. Governors are not meant to remain in the Raj Bhavan as 'seven-star prisoners'. I don't think that Governors should remain mum and enjoy all the facilities available to them. Governors should interfere in socially critical issues. I expressed my opinion on scholarships to minorities in Kerala. I backed Christian leaders when they met me with the complaint that the scholarship ratio, 80% to one particular community and the remaining 20% to all others, could not be justified. Governors cannot sit quietly whenever an issue on Constitutional rights arises. The Cardinals had raised the issue when they met the Prime Minister. At last, didn't the Kerala High Court quash it saying it was discriminatory? If the Governor is convinced of injustice, he has the right to interfere.

There is a view that Governors put the government in a quandary by taking a public stand (on issues)?
There won't be any disagreement of principles, though interpretations may vary. Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan is brave. He had expressed a contrary view on the Shah Bano case and resigned from the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet in 1994. He had never hesitated to express his views. He had taken principled stands on issues and even implemented them. Hence he cannot be blamed for his responses.

Sreedharan Pillai
Sreedharan Pillai with Orthodox Church Metropolitans Youhanon Mar Demetrios Metropolitan, Yuhanon Mar Diascoros and Dr Thomas Mar Athanasius after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2020. Photo: Manorama

Cardinal Oswald Gracias met you at the Raj Bhavan, and you played a part in taking three Cardinals to the Prime Minister. Are you unofficially bridging the gap between the Church and BJP?
I hold good relations with all denominations in Kerala, even before I became a Governor. I was the first to be invited from my old organisation (BJP) by the NSS. I have had the opportunity to inaugurate SNDP's 'Guru Mandiram'. I haven't used my good relations for political causes. Even they won't raise such an accusation. It's all a give-and-take relation and based on trust. Attempts were made to insult me over these relations. But I am not bothered.

There was rumour on social media that you were critically ill with COVID-19. You demanded legal action against those who circulated the rumour. What is its status?
Yes, the rumour was circulated during the first COVID-19 wave. I was then the Governor of Mizoram. Fortunately, I never contracted the disease. I was never hospitalised. Still, a campaign was launched on social media that I was critically ill. The Facebook post also said I had a liver ailment. The post said my life was in danger and urged all to pray for me. Thousands of people shared the post published on the Facebook page of 'Kavimannu.' I could not find the person who was behind the post. So I decided to approach the Kerala government and police. I contacted my close friend and then minister A K Balan, and raised the issue. I told him that I am sending a complaint. The Raj Bhavan secretary complained and an FIR was registered at the Cantonment Police Station. But nothing happened. Later when I enquired, I didn't even get a response.

Can a complaint by a Governor be handled in such a manner?
I don't want to punish anyone, but I should know who was behind it (the rumour). Isn't that the right of any citizen? The police should have enquired with Facebook first, and there is a certain proforma for the purpose. I later learned that the proforma was filled wrong, which absolved Facebook from its obligation to respond. The Facebook page, 'Kavimannu', gives the impression that it is part of the organisation in which I had earlier worked. But, it was the nerve centre of rumour-mongering. Perhaps those who knew the person(s) behind the page wanted to protect them. If this is what a Governor gets, what would be the plight of a common man. Let those concerned think about it. It should be recalled that the complaint was lodged by the Raj Bhavan secretary on behalf of the Governor. All I got was a copy of the FIR and the information that an application had been made to Facebook. If this is the situation for someone of my stature, I am very much worried about the situation in Kerala.

Kerala Police scuttled probe into fake news on me: Governor Sreedharan Pillai
P S Sreedharan Pillai

You mentioned in a recent speech in Kerala that those who had acted against Lord Ayyappa have been punished? Does such a reference suit someone holding the office of the Governor?
I was put in the dock in the Sabarimala issue for something I had not done. I had to lead my previous organisation by adopting a 'Gandhian model'. We didn't have enough time to discuss the struggle with all democratically. If I had not then intervened in such a manner, the fate of my previous organisation would have been different. But I had to suffer much over that stir. A complaint demanding the suspension of my membership is still before the Bar Council. There are reasons for the 'tantri's' statement that the sanctum sanctorum would be closed when it was felt that a woman would enter the temple. I am not dwelling on it now.

I have done everything for God, and God has blessed me abundantly. I have also seen what happened to those who took a stand against 'Bhagwan.' For instance, a law professional from Delhi, who was in the forefront, had to perform a puja as penance, and I know what the penance was. Whoever had created trouble there, had to repent.

As the then State president of the party, you might have instructed the party to take up the struggle in the Gandhian way. But the stir was violent.

I am not commenting on the reasons now. I have no intention to breach the 'Lakshman Rekha'. I won't comment on the issue now.

You then urged the party to use the 'golden opportunity' the Sabarimala issue had presented. It was widely discussed also. The BJP and you are still blamed for that call. Do you now have a second thought on the statement?
What is wrong with a party president issuing a call to peacefully utilise the opportunity the (Sabarimala) row had presented? The term, 'peacefully', should be noted. That's what I said. But a TV channel dropped that word and made it news. Is it a crime even if it was avoided? What is wrong with the party president asking the workers to wage a struggle and utilise the opportunity? A campaign was unleashed as if I had committed a crime. Even friends in the media were part of that campaign. Time will find answers for all these acts.

What could the BJP do to take people into confidence and grow in Kerala?
I have clear views on this matter. But since I am a Governor, I have put them in cold storage. I will speak about it if a chance comes to take it out of cold storage.

The BJP performed well in Kerala in 2004 and 2018 when you were the State president. Do you feel even your party did not recognize your work as the president?
You know these issues. BJP won 13% votes in the 2004 Parliament election. Did anyone expect it? The 16% vote share in 2019 was the biggest in the party's history in Kerala. Still, I was in the midst of a few controversies and rumours. I did not respond to them. The achievements were not mine as an individual, but the result of a collective work. Public workers pass through several adversities. Lord Ayyappa has always protected me and brought me several achievements. There were lots of talks over the Marad riots. But it fizzled out. There were several instances when I had a narrow escape.

In a Facebook post made on the completion of a year as the Governor of Mizoram, you recalled your days as a practicing advocate with nostalgia. It also reflected your desire to return to active politics.

I am occupying one of the highest offices a Malayali could hope for. I am happy with it, and am thankful to those who offered me this position. I am not the one who would quit midway. But practicing as an advocate is a God-given gift. My Bar Council membership has not been cancelled. A complaint has been lodged to suspend the membership. Though those holding gubernatorial positions seldom return to their profession, I have a huge desire to return to it. I am not hiding it. But time decides everything. I am also focusing on writing, and more than 100 books have been released. I am addressed here as a writer also, but in Kerala, I am seen as a politician and advocate. I am indebted to God for his blessings. I won't rule out any possibilities in the future.

Have you noted the controversy over K-Rail in Kerala? How do you view the criticisms against the project?
I am a Goan for the time being.

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.