How Arif Mohammed Khan turned a colonial ritual into political theatre

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan addresses the Assembly during policy address in Januay 25, 2024. Photo: Special arrangement

The Governor's Address to the Assembly, the first legislative event of the year, often provides a deceptive calm before the start of stormy budget sessions. These addresses are generally solemn affairs, ritually significant but uneventful. But since the arrival of Arif Mohammed Khan as Governor in 2019, monotonous ritualistic conformity has given way to dramatic unpredictability.

Blacking out virtually the entire address on Thursday (January 25) is just the latest in a series of whimsical moves made by Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on the day of the address or in the days running up to the address. Khan's brinkmanship was on display on all years since his first address in 2020, except last year and 2021.

His muted performance last January was intriguing. This fifth address was held in the backdrop of Khan's public accusation of the government's blatant interference in the higher eduction sector and yet the Governor did not skip a word in the speech written by the government for him, parts of which were highly critical of the Centre and also him. Khan’s body language was grim but he went along, like he was forced to do something against his wish. This was the only time Khan looked out of character.

All or nothing
But the year before, in 2022, Governor Khan dragged the Pinarayi government to the farthest edge of the precipice. The Governor refused to give his assent to the policy address even after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan talked to him in person. The Governor was peeved that he was officially served a "letter of insult" for appointing a "person of his choice" (BJP state committee member Hari S Kartha) as his additional personal assistant.

He relented only after the officer who had served him the letter was removed from the post.

Governor Arif Mohammad Khan
Governor Arif Mohammad Khan delivers policy address during Budget Session of 15th Kerala Assembly on February 18, 2022. Photo: MANOJ CHEMANCHERI/ Manorama

Guv’s pro-CAA twist
Arif Mohammed Khan's unpredictability was considered a nuisance right from the start that the Chief Minister had issued the Governor a 'code of conduct' before Khan’s first address in 2020. "It is requested that the address approved by the council of ministers be read in its entirety sans any additions or deletions," the communication said.

The Governor was undeterred, he found a way to make his displeasure known. During the address that year, when he came to the paragraph dealing with the Citizenship Amendment Act, Khan said: "I have been corresponding with the honourable Chief Minister for the last few days. I have my reservations. But I am going to read this para because the honourable Chief Minister wants me to read this, although I hold the view that this does not come under the definition of policy or programme."

There was a reason why the Chief Minister had to issue the Governor a 'code of conduct'. In December 2019, the Governor had ridiculed the government's decision to convene a special session on December 31, 2019, to pass a resolution the three controversial farm bills against which farmers were protesting in Delhi. He said the Kerala Government had no jurisdiction to settle the grievances of farmers. When the government insisted, Khan was forced to accede.

Honeymoon period
However, 2021 was the year the Governor and the Government seemed happy with each other. There were two Governor's address that year and both the addresses did not cause the government any embarrassment.

The first policy address in 2021, on January 8, the Governor had read out, without omitting a word, even the LDF government's criticism of the farm bills. Few months later on May 28, when a fresh policy address had to be delivered after the second Pinarayi Ministry took over, it was the government's turn to return the favour.

This address, Khan's third, did not have the usual anti-Centre belligerence of an LDF dispensation. Nothing that would have disturbed the Centre, and its nominee in the Raj Bhavan, were included in the speech.

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.