On October 25, 2022, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan wrote a letter to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan asking him to take action against Finance Minister K N Balagopal as he ‘withdrew his pleasure’ upon the minister. The Governor said that ‘Balagopal had violated the oath and undermined the unity and integrity of India’. A speech delivered by the minister at a function at the Kerala University on October 19 was the reason that provoked the Governor to ‘withdraw his pleasure’.
Balagopal reportedly said that ‘some people who had been used to the practices in states like Uttar Pradesh, might not be able to understand the democratic nature of the Universities in Kerala’. He was implying Khan’s continuous criticism of the functioning of the universities in the State. However, the Chief Minister took no action on the letter but continued his strategic silence over the controversial remarks made by the Governor quite often.
The constitutional experts rejected this idea of the ‘Governor withdrawing his pleasure on a Minister’. "The doctrine of pleasure of the Governor upon the State Government is a different concept," says P D T Achary, former Lok Sabha Secretary General. According to him, the pleasure of the Governor is related to the majority of the Government in office. ‘"The pleasure exists when there is a majority in the legislature, it ends when the majority is lost’ says Achary. The pleasure of the Governor has nothing to do with any individual cabinet minister."
However, Arif Mohammed Khan did not recall. He justified his action even recently in the context of the Tamil Nadu Governor’s ‘dismissal’ of the cabinet Minister Senthil Balaji.
The tug-of war-between the Governor and the Kerala Government was sparked off during the tenure of the previous LDF Government in January 2020. He was reluctant to read out the reference against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The Kerala Government was fiercely against the CAA. The Government unanimously passed a resolution against CAA in December 2019. CPI M and LDF launched state-wide protests too against the law. The Governor, however, refused to go with it. He read out the 18th paragraph of the customary Policy speech with a comment that he was reading it only because the Chief Minister wanted him to do it but he did not consider the same as that come under policy or programme. The 18th paragraph of the policy speech was about CAA.
In 2022 February, the Governor again refused to approve the customary policy speech to be read in the Assembly. This time he was furious about an action taken by the then Secretary of the General Administration Department who expressed ‘displeasure’ over the decision of the Governor to appoint Hari S Kartha, a BJP leader as his additional PA. The letter to Raj Bhavan mentioned that the Government approved the appointment only because the Governor ‘wanted it’ and there had been no precedence of employing political leaders in Raj Bhavan.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who was not in the mood to fight, preferred to go for reconciliation rather than create a rift. The result was that Jyothilal, the GAD Secretary, a senior IAS Officer who had an untainted track record of service was shown the exit door. He was transferred to another department and the Governor agreed to sign the policy speech. It was apparently clear that what Jyothilal conveyed to the Governor was not his personal take, but that of the Government. Still, he had to pay the price.
The Governor’s presentation of the customary speech in the Assembly turned out to be dramatic. The opposition shouted slogans in protest as usual and the Governor expressed his displeasure by warning the opposition leader to ‘rise up to his position’. The opposition staged a walkout. On the other hand, the ruling front members stayed back in the Assembly hall but kept meaningful silence throughout the speech. Usually, the members would welcome the speech with thunderous applause while the Governor read out the achievements of the Government. It did not happen.
Tug of war regarding administration of State universities
In an unexpected move on October 23, 2022, Arif Mohammed Khan sent notices to the Vice Chancellors of nine State Universities in Kerala asking them to show reason for not demanding their resignation. The Vice-Chancellor was asked to render their resignation by 11:30 A M the next day.
'The search committees of the concerned Universities submitted only one name instead of a panel of names for the appointment of the VC which was against the regulations of UGC,': For the Governor, this became the reason to go for such an unusual step of demanding immediate resignation which created a storm in Kerala. Everyone including the chief minister lost their patience. The left leaders went into an open war of words with the Governor.
The powers of the Governor in the capacity of the Chancellor have created a huge debate. The concerned statutes by which the universities are formed do not empower the Chancellor to demand the resignation from the VC on such grounds. However, the Vice-Chancellors did not yield to this demand but moved to the High Court of Kerala against this unprecedented order and the High Court imposed a stay and allowed the VCs to continue in the position.
Bills put under cold storage
The tussle between the Governor and the Government paved the way for a constitutional crisis in Kerala similar to that of other States such as Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, and West Bengal. The Government has taken the decision to remove the Governor from the position of the Chancellor of the state universities and passed the required Bills to remove him. Four Bills (The University Laws Amendment Bill) were passed in this regard and sent to the assent of the Governor. He neither returned it to the Legislature asking for clarifications nor approved it. A total of nine bills are waiting for Governor’s approval. The Kerala Public Health Bill of 2021, The Kerala Lok Ayukta Amendment Bill 2022, and The Kerala Cooperative Societies Amendment Bill 2022 are the other Bills kept by the Governor untouched.
The Constitution does not give a solution to this problem. “The Constitution makers had not imagined a situation in which Governors having political differences with the Government holding back the Bill’ says an Officer in the Legislative Assembly. According to sources in the Chief Minister’s office, the Government is considering a legal move by filing a writ petition in the Supreme Court. Only the Apex court can provide a solution to this stalemate, hopes the Government.