The last time a governor of a state in India met the RSS chief was in 2015 when UP Governor Ram Naik met Mohan Bhagwat. Then the meeting took place in the UP Raj Bhavan, and not in the house of a local RSS worker like when Governor Arif Mohammad Khan met Bhagwat on September 17.
Governor Khan was least apologetic about his decision to go and visit the RSS chief. “He had come to an area, a part of the state of which I am the head. I was not even aware that he was coming. When I knew he was there I went to meet him, to wish him well,” he said on Monday, during the first-ever press meet called by a Governor in Kerala, and added defiantly: “Again if he is here, I will go and meet him.”
Khan said his association with the RSS went a long way back. “I had attended their biggest annual event, the Officers' Training Camp, at least six times. Prominent people outside the RSS are invited to the last day of the event. This is the kind of relationship that I enjoy with the RSS. What is so unusual about it?” asked the Governor.
Khan did not directly address the question of whether it was proper for a Governor to visit the RSS chief. In terms of protocol, a Governor is the fourth most important Constitutional office in the country after the President, Vice President and Prime Minister.
Instead, Khan wanted to know whether RSS was a banned organisation. "Why did Pandit Nehru invite the RSS to participate in the Republic Day parade?" he asked. This happened in 1963 after Nehru was impressed by the voluntary work of the RSS during the Indo-China war in 1962. A 3,000-strong RSS contingent had taken part in the 1963 Republic Parade.
Khan seemed to defend his meeting with Bhagwat not within the framework of his Constitutional role but in his individual capacity. For instance, he said that the RSS had consistently supported him for the stand he had taken in the Shah Bano case. In 1986, Khan walked out of the Rajiv Gandhi ministry when they enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, which nullified the Supreme Court's verdict on the Shah Bano divorce and maintenance case.
"Apart from the RSS, Namboodirippad (CPM stalwart and former Chief Minister EMS) had also supported me. But the Left withdrew their support in 1991, after which they became friendly with the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) members," Khan said. It was under pressure from the AIMPLB that Rajiv Gandhi overturned the Shah Bano verdict.
Further, Khan wanted to know what the fuss was all about when people with RSS roots were occupants of Raj Bhavans across the country. "When you have people openly associated with the RSS in many Raj Bhavans, why do you have a problem with a Raj Bhavan resident meeting the RSS chief," he said.
At one stage, he even seemed to blindly defend RSS' actions. Criticising what he termed the violent ideology of the CPM, Khan expressed shock at the political murders in Kerala. When the RSS' role in these murders was pointed out, Khan said: "The RSS has never been in government. It is the responsibility of the government to prevent such violence."
There is no established code of conduct that bars a governor from making private visits within the state of which he is the head. It is just that governors, even highly political ones, have generally not allowed their personal inclinations to lower the dignity of the high office they hold.
“There is no hard and fast rule that prescribes particular conduct for governors. It is up to the individual to decide whether his or her action would cause a dent to the image of the high office he or she holds,” a former Kerala governor said on the condition of anonymity.