What provoked Governor Arif Mohammed Khan to skip policy address?

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan delivers policy address on January 25, 2024. Photo: Manorama

It is almost funny that Governor Arif Mohammed Khan handed out his worst humiliation of the Pinarayi Vijayan government on a day when the government went out of its way to keep the Governor cheerful. 

A close reading of the 2024 Governor's address to the Legislative Assembly would reveal that the LDF government was careful not to provoke the Governor. There was no unbridled attacks on the Centre or on the Governor’s office, nor were there pontifications about secularism. 

Of course, the address included the LDF government's pet worry that the Centre was smothering Kerala fiscally. But the tone this year unlike in previous addresses was more matter-of-fact than accusatory. 

Sample this subtle shift in language. Here is what the Governor read out last year. "While fiscal discipline has to be enforced in right earnest, there cannot be different yardsticks for State Governments, which are not made applicable to the Union Government."

Now, here is what he should have read today. "My Government is put to added liquidity stress because of the retrospective cut in borrowing limits, which is not in accordance with the accepted recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission. This stand of the Union Government needs an early reconsideration." 

If the first sounded like a pamphlet of revolution, the latter  seemed borrowed from the manifesto of the victim. 

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Speaker AN Shamseer meet Governor Arif Mohammed Khan. Photo: PRD

Post-Ayodhya silence
Coming close on the heels of the Ayodhya consecration, it was expected the LDF government would register its condemnation and reaffirm the ideal of secularism in its policy address. It was not to be. There were no strong words in the policy address that denounced what the Left had always considered the unconstitutional and dangerous tango of religion and politics. Governor Khan, who was as gung-ho as devout Hindus about the Ram Lalla consecration, should have been relieved.

Last year, the LDF government sounded bolder. "Hegemonic tendencies in religious, linguistic and other arenas hamper building of a robust democracy, which respects diversity for strengthening its unity," the policy address said. And the Governor had even mouthed this. 

Khan left off the hook
To top it all, there was no mention of the Governor's refusal to sign bills, too. Last year, the government made the Governor at least say, "Legislative Assemblies represent the will of the people. The spirit of legislation and the intention of the legislature has to be protected." This year Governor Khan was spared even this ignominy of having to reprimand himself for sitting on the bills passed by the Legislature.

There was no boast about the higher education sector either, that would have enraged the Chancellor in Arif Mohammed Khan. 

Yogi and liquor
Yet, there was a sly snub that the Governor would not have failed to notice. Whenever he had the chance, Governor Khan had ridiculed Kerala for what he called its over-reliance on liquor money. He had said he was ashamed that lottery and liquor were Kerala's two main sources of revenue.

So in the latest policy address, while lauding Kerala's revenue mobilisation efforts, a line has been cheekily thrown in. "It is noteworthy that the percentage of own tax revenue that comes from alcohol in Kerala (3.7%) is amongst the lowest of all states and compares very favourably with states where the percentage is as high as 22%". It is no secret that it is Uttar Pradesh, Arif Mohammed Khan's home state that is ruled by the BJP, that draws over 22% of its revenues from alcohol. 

Nava Kerala snub
The Governor would also have found too hard to utter anything laudatory about Nava Kerala Sadas, the LDF government's unique 42-day public outreach programme. Khan had publicly ridiculed the exercise. "Is it a yatra for fun? What is the purpose of the yatra? They say they collected over three lakh petitions. Is that the purpose? It defies logic, defies reason," he had said. Also, it was during the second phase of Nava Kerala Sadas that the Governor-SFI street battle worsened. 

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his cabinet of ministers pose for a picture in the special bus arranged for the Nava Kerala Sadas. Photo: Manorama

Had he read out the speech in full, this is what he would have said about Nava Kerala Sadas: "The convening of the Nava Kerala Sadas or People's Assembly for a New Kerala across all the 140 legislative constituencies reiterated my Government’s unshakeable belief in debate, dialogue, democracy, and the people’s mandate, and the massive turnouts at each of these events reaffirmed the confidence vested in my Government by the people of Kerala." Parroting these lines would not have been fun for Arif Mohammed Khan.

Nonetheless, it is true that Governor Khan had read out sharper censures of himself in previous addresses. Therefore, if he had chosen to black out the entire address this year, it has more to do with events unfolding out in the streets than with printed words. 

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