Question: What will Opposition Leader V D Satheesan do when Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Governor Arif Mohammed Khan keep fighting?
Options are; A: Join Vijayan and fight Khan, B: Join Khan and fight Vijayan, C: Remain a mute spectator and enjoy the show, D: None of the above. You get one mark if you tick D. The answer is already up in the air.
What Satheesan has actually done is open a new fight against both Khan and Vijayan. The Congress-led opposition is eyeing two birds – the ruling CPM-led Left front and the BJP-backed governor – with a single stone. The logic seems to be that it would do no good for the opposition front if it joins one side in the ongoing confrontation between the governor and the government which has overt political implications. The Congress's campaign is that both the government and the governor are engaged in 'a settlement game' which benefits them mutually.
The latest episode in the 'governor vs government' series started playing out recently on the eve of the beginning of the ongoing budget session of the Kerala Assembly. The governor refused to sign the policy address he was supposed to deliver the next day, flaunting his latest cause that is against the wastage of public money on account of the wages paid to ministers' personal staff. However, the governor was reportedly displeased over the government's act of making public its displeasure over the appointment of BJP state committee member Hari S Kartha in his personal staff. The governor signed the speech and delivered it only after the government decided to move out K R Jyothilal, a senior bureaucrat, from the post of General Administration Secretary who had sent the letter to the governor, informing him of the government's displeasure over the political appointment. The governor's policy address in the Assembly turned out to be a high drama with the opposition staging a walkout shouting 'RSS governor go back' while the treasury benches kept a disturbing silence throughout the speech.
“We have been taking a consistent stance against both the government and the governor. They fight but in between they settle their issues. The outcome is illegal acts. The first instance was the reappointment of the vice-chancellor of Kannur University. The higher education minister (R Bindu) had no right to seek the cancellation of the search committee appointed for the selection of a new VC. The University rule was also clear about the age limit of the VC. The governor heeded the minister's demand violating both these rules. Then, when he had some fallout with the government, he raised the reappointment of the VC as an issue, saying he approved the reappointment under pressure from the government, and threatened to quit as chancellor of universities. If he was firm on his stance that the reappointment was illegal and irregular he should have either asked the VC to resign or taken steps to vacate him from the post. Instead of doing anything like that, he settled the matter with the government and continued to discharge his duties as chancellor,” Satheesan told Onmanorama.
The leader of the opposition also blamed the governor for signing the Lokayukta ordinance despite the opposition parties meeting him and raising their reservations against the ordinance. “Our major point was that the then governor had sent the original Bill for Presidential assent when it was presented in 1999. When there's a major amendment in such a Bill, it should also be sent for the presidential assent. He didn't do it. Instead he signed it. Not only that, the government passed the ordinance by delaying the decision to convene the next Assembly session. It was an insult to the Assembly. The governor and the government joined hands to insult the House. What's the outcome of it? Now there's no effective mechanism to prevent corruption in the state,” the Congress leader said.
Satheesan also criticised the government for yielding to the governor's pressure in getting the policy address signed. “It's his constitutional duty to sign the address. If he didn't do it, he would have had to resign. Instead of forcing the governor to fall in line, the government yielded to his pressure tactics. This is also evidence that the two are engaged in political settlement,” he said.
Interestingly, the CPI, the second largest ally in the ruling front, also shares the same view. CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran said the chief minister's visit to the governor to pacify him was a political loss to the Left front.
The CPM's stance is that it deliberately avoided a confrontation with the governor.
Satheesan's frequent outbursts against Governor Khan have irked him so much so that he even asked the leader of the opposition to get a lesson or two about the dignity of his position from senior Congress leaders Oommen Chandy or Ramesh Chennithala. Knowing perfectly well about the uneasy relationship between Satheesan (read the new leadership of the state Congress) and the Chandy-Chennithala combo, the governor was evidently making a political taunt at Satheesan. Satheesan retorted in a harsh manner saying he need not take any advice from a person like Khan who has a track record of jumping from one party to another five times in his political career.
The Congress leaders quickly took up the narrative, attempting to corner Khan as an uncommitted and power-hungry politician. “RSS agent Arif Mohammed Khan need not advise how the opposition in Kerala should function. The person who heeds your advice and stands for your collusion are at the Cliff House, not in Cantonment House,”KPCC vice president V T Balram wrote on Facebook. Cliff House is the official residence of the chief minister and Cantonment House is of the leader of the opposition.
The Congress is keen to highlight Khan's RSS links. It is learnt that the party had deliberately downplayed the controversy over the Kerala University refusing to entertain the governor's request to honour President Ram Nath Kovind with a D.Litt award, despite Chennithala bringing it to public attention. The party's assessment was that only the Left front would benefit politically from the decision not to honour an RSS/BJP-backed president.
Political commentator Joseph C Mathew agreed to Congress's allegation that there could be some motives unknown to the public behind the exchanges between the governor and the government. He said the Left government spoiled a big political opportunity to raise the issues regarding governor's appointment at the national level by surrendering before Khan's pressure tactics on the eve of the Assembly session.
He said the governor has been engaging in cheap bargaining and both the governor and the chief minister have acted immaturely on the policy address issue. “If the chief minister had taken a firm stance that he would not budge to the governor and a situation arises where the governor is either forced to deliver the policy address or resign from his post, it would have been a huge political victory for Vijayan. In such a case, the opposition would have had no option but to stand behind the CM. But Vijayan discarded the trump card. Why did he do it is a million-dollar question,” Mathew, who served as the IT secretary in the Left government headed by V S Achuthanandan, said.
“We must doubt that there's some understanding (between the Governor and the Chief Minister) beyond what comes outside. I don't think Pinarayi Vijayan just made an inadvertent mistake. Maybe he doesn't want to take up a bold fight with the central leadership. The Governor is a nobody. Arif Mohammed Khan is speaking for someone else. Maybe Vijayan doesn't want to pick up a fight. Why? That's what the CPM should tell the public,” he said.