Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan’s outburst against the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its functionaries including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan marks an escalation in tensions between him and the elected government. Until now, Mr. Khan and Mr. Vijayan had maintained a functional relationship despite their apparent differences. At the heart of the current flare-up is Kannur University’s controversial decision to appoint the wife of Mr. Vijayan’s private secretary as an associate professor. Mr. Khan, who is also the chancellor of the university, has been critical of the move, but his decision to hold a full-length press conference crossed a line and damaged the majesty of his office. In the presser, Mr. Khan lashed out at CPI(M) functionaries and labelled some of their actions as being anti-national, nepotism, and anti-social. As an unelected appointee of the Centre, a Governor of a State is expected to appreciate the popular mandate of the elected government. By going public with his views, Mr. Khan has precipitated a situation which should have been avoided. The CPI(M) and other parties in the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by Mr. Vijayan have reciprocated the Governor’s feelings, making the exchange a nasty episode. Among other things, representatives of the ruling front have called Mr. Khan an unhinged agent of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Mr. Khan could have raised his concerns, however valid as he might deem them to be, with Mr. Vijayan rather than triggering a completely avoidable public spat.
Mr. Khan’s unprecedented public criticism of the elected government is incongruous with the high office that he holds, but the issues that he has raised put the ruling front on the defensive. One can debate whether a Governor is mandated to enforce standards of governance, but Mr. Khan is evidently not restrained. He had raised a hue and cry over the practice of State pensions to political appointees who serve as personal staff of Ministers for 30 months. Mr. Khan has now locked horns with the LDF over governance questions related to universities and the crippling of the Lok Ayukta, the anti-corruption ombudsman that might lose its powers to punish to the State Assembly. The Governor has made it clear that he will not be signing two Acts, one related to higher education and one on Lok Ayukta. Regardless of the Assembly’s powers to make such laws, the moral case for doing so is rather tenuous. Electoral majority is the foundation of representative democracy, but institutional checks and balances are also its integral parts. The elected government and the Governor should both pipe down, and discuss these questions in a calm manner with the objective of seeking solutions and advancing the State’s development.