Ruling CPM seething with anger as Governor-Govt tiff reaches flashpoint

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan

Thiruvananthapuram: The ruling CPM in the State is fuming with anger over Governor Arif Mohammed Khan's one-upmanship. The deft moves played out successfully by the Governor on Thursday were quite unexpected for the government and the party.

The dramatic incidents that occurred in the Capital after the Governor refused to sign the policy address to be tabled in the State Assembly came as a severe embarrassment to the CPM. This is the second time that on the eve of the policy statement declaration in the Assembly, the Governor is putting the State Government on tenterhooks.

The Governor created a similar crisis on the eve of the policy statement declaration in the Assembly on January 29, 2020, when the first Pinarayi Government was at the helm. He had then informed the State Government that he would not read the 18th paragraph that contained Kerala's criticism against the Citizenship Amendment Act passed by Parliament. 

The Governor had then threatened that he would omit the portion while reading the speech. But this time, he went one step further and refused to even sign the policy declaration document. He gave an impression that there is likely to be a constitutional crisis. But during both times, the Governor changed his stand at the last minute.

In 2020, till morning he gave an impression that he would not read the CIA-related portion. But in the Assembly, he changed his mind and read the portion with an introductory remark that he was going to read it as per the wish of the Chief Minister. But on Thursday, he kept the government on tenterhooks for hours before signing the policy declaration statement.

On both times, the Governor mended his ways after the intervention by the Chief Minister. The recurring instances of confrontation and compromise between the government and Raj Bhavan have come as a surprise to the State's administrative setup.

Earlier, Arif Khan had put the government and the CPM in serious crisis by threatening that he would quit the post of the Chancellor in protest against the political appointments in the universities.

In a retaliatory move, the State Government pointed out the impropriety in the appointment of Hari S Kartha as a member of personal staff by the Governor, who always showed distaste towards political appointments made by the State Government.

But the Governor countered it by asking the State Government what right it had to oppose the appointment of staff at Raj Bhavan when the latter made large-scale political appointments to the personal staff of ministers and then kept on spending crores of rupees from the government treasury for their salaries and pensions.

The Raj Bhavan and the State Government engaged in mutual mudslinging usually resorted to by the political parties. When the Governor delayed the signing of the policy address, a section in the LDF asked the government not to yield to the pressure exerted by the Governor.             

But the CPM found it to be wise to avoid a showdown with Raj Bhavan at this juncture keeping in mind the uncertainty over the Assembly session and the negative impact it would have created at the national level. So, by suppressing its anger, the CPM struck a conciliatory note with the Governor.

But the CPI is not happy with the decision to transfer the General Administration Secretary as part of mollifying the Governor. Its question is whether it was correct to make the IAS officer a scapegoat for sending a dissenting letter to the Raj Bhavan which he should have done with the concurrence of the Chief Minister.

"The Governor shoulders the responsibility to fully accept the decisions of the State Government in policy matters as per the Article 163 of the Constitution. The Governor has no discriminatory power over it. The Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court had made it clear in the Shamser Singh case," advocate Kaleeswaram Raj said.

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