Governor Arif Mohammed Khan is no small fish. He was a Janata Party MLA at the age of 26 in Uttar Pradesh. The political experiment that was called the Janata Party didn't last long. It collapsed when Vajpayee and Advani rejected the demand to terminate their relationship with RSS. It was in this context Arif Mohammed Khan joined Congress with the halo of a progressive Muslim leader. Khan was there in the Lok Sabha as a Congress representative in 1980 when Indira returned to power. He was made the minister of state for home, company affairs, industry and energy in the Rajiv Gandhi ministry. Khan showed extraordinary courage and rebellious spirit when he quit the ministry protesting against the Rajiv Govt's decision to bring in constitutional amendment to derail the SC's verdict which upheld the Muslim women's right to alimony.
Then Khan was with VP Singh's Janata Dal for a short period. From there he switched over to the BSP of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. Khan quit BSP when the party decided to ally with BJP to form the govt in UP in the wake of Gujarat riots. According to a report in the Indian Express, he reacted sharply to this development in his resignation letter to BSP supremo Kanshi Ram. “Since I stand committed to fight against communalism and the BSP has decided to align itself with the BJP, I see no moral way out but to part company, so that I can devote myself totally to the cause of fighting against divisive forces. When the practitioners of hatred are indulging in the most barbaric, unprecedented and perverse violence in Gujarat, and defending the same in the name of reaction, the BSP choosing to make common cause with them has given many people, including me, a chilling shock,” Khan reportedly said in the letter. The honorable governor may not like to recall these words now. He joined the same BJP in 2004. After three years he parted company with the saffron party alleging that tickets were given to the ' tainted'. He cozied up to BJP again in 2014 when Modi assumed power. The Gujarat riots and the alleged role of Modi in this brutal violence had become just memories by then. Khan supported Modi Govt when it brought in the law against triple talaq and when Article 370 was neutralised. It was in this context that Khan was appointed the Governor of Kerala. One can't blame the Modi Govt if it felt that it was worth sending Khan to Kerala, where Muslims constitute 26.5 percent of the population.
The madness with a method
There were heated discussions in the constituent assembly on the role of governor. Finally the assembly accepted the argument that the governor's post was essential in ensuring the application of constitutional principles. Gandhiji, Nehru and Ambedkar agreed in principle that governors should be nominated by the centre. All of them believed that governors would remain impartial and objective in fulfilling their duty towards both the states and the centre. But theory and practice seldom go hand in hand. The same Nehru, who stood for independent and impartial governors, was the PM when the first communist ministry in Kerala led by EMS Namboodiripad was dismissed on the advice of the then governor Ramakrishna Rao. The Governors became puppets during the Indira regime. From then onwards the situation remained almost the same. The governors began acting like agents of the central government. The Sarkaria Commission had recommended that the central govt must consult the state governments before appointing governors. But no central govt has implemented this recommendation so far.
The conflicts between governors and CMs are not a new phenomenon. The squabbles between Kamala Beniwal, former governor of Gujarat, and Narendra Modi, the then CM of the state are part of history. Beniwal was at loggerheads with Modi over the appointment of Lok Ayukta. When the appointment got delayed, Beniwal took things into her hands and appointed Justice RA Mehta as the Lok Ayukta. But to the bad luck of Beniwal, Modi became the PM in 2014. Modi govt transferred Governor Beniwal to Mizoram. And some weeks later she was dismissed from the post of governor. Congress, Janata party govts too have dismissed governors. But Raj Bhavans started functioning like political party offices only after the Modi govt assumed power.
It seems the Central govt has given specific instructions to Governors to destabilise the opposition-ruled states somehow or the other. The games played by governors like Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Arif Mohammed Khan and RN Ravi point to this pattern. As Shakespeare said this may be madness with a method. There is a plot and a pattern. This is a game that compliments the moves of ED and CBI. This game doesn't come out of the blue. It has a plan and a centre. When Prashant Kishore says that RSS is the real coffee and BJP is only the froth, he is pointing to these games too.
Kamala Beniwal and Modi
Let us return to Kamala Beniwal. Kamala was the first woman to become minister in Rajasthan when she was chosen for the post in 1954. She came to public notice outside the state when she was sent to Gujarat as governor. She served Gujarat from 2009 to 2014. Those five years saw constant disputes between the Governor and the CM. Being the Chancellor of universities, she made it a point to intervene in the appointment of VCs. And eventually she appointed Lok Ayukta without the consent of the CM.
Kamala chose Justice RA Mehta, former Chief Justice of Gujarat, as the Lok Ayukta. The Post of Lok Ayukta remained vacant from 2001 onwards during the rule of Modi. The Chief Justice of Gujarat HC advised the CM that justice RA Mehta was the ideal candidate for the post of Lok Ayukta. But Justice Mehta, who came down on the BJP government on many issues, was not acceptable to CM Modi.
The Modi government challenged the act of the Governor in the Supreme Court. The SC upheld Justice Mehta's appointment as Lok Ayukta. But Justice Mehta refused the offer. He said that he was hurt by the state govt's lack of faith on him and made it clear that he won't break bread with the government for the sake of a post, however high that may be. Justice Mehta belongs to that rare species who preferred principles over money and posts.
While upholding Justice Mehta's appointment, the SC had made it clear that it was not the job of the governor to undermine the day-to-day functioning of the state government. The SC reminded the governor of the spirit of the constitution: ''The governor's version of events, stated in her letter dated 3.3.2010, to the effect that she was not bound by the aid and advice of the council of ministers, and that she had the exclusive right to appoint the Lok Ayukta, is most certainly not in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution.'' The SC pointed out that the apex court upheld the decision of the governor in spite of this glaring breach of spirit of the constitution because of the long delay in the appointment of the Lok Ayukta and the stand of the Gujarat HC that Justice Mehta was the most appropriate person for the post.
The SC reiterated one significant factor in its verdict: “The present governor has misjudged her role and has insisted, that under the (1986) Act, the council of ministers has no role to play in the appointment of the Lok Ayukta, and that she could therefore, fill it up in consultation with the chief justice of Gujarat High Court and the leader of Opposition. Such an attitude is not in conformity, or in consonance with the democratic set-up of government envisaged in our Constitution.”
The Modi govt introduced new laws to rein in the Chancellor when Kamala Beniwal moved against the government sitting in the chair of the chancellor. Justice Punchhi Commission report came handy to the Modi Govt in its fight against governors. The Justice Punchhi Commission was appointed by the Manmohan Ministry in 2007 to study centre-state relations. The committee submitted the report in 2010. Dr NR Madhava Menon, Dhirendra Singh, Vinod Kumar Diggal, Vijay Sankar were the other members apart from Justice Punchhi. The Committee examined in depth if governors should function as chancellors.
What Punchhi commission said
The Governor's post is sanctioned by the Constitution. But the Chancellor's post has no such sanctity. The commission pointed out that governors are expected to function as the watchdogs of the constitution and they must concentrate on this rather than act as chancellors. The committee recommended against appointing governors as chancellors since the unilateral decisions by the Governor as chancellor will be detrimental to the smooth functioning of the government.
The Govts usually announce the judicial commissions with much fanfare. But once the committees complete their task, no follow up action is taken. The Justice Punchhi Commission was no exception. If the Manmohan Singh Govt had acted on the recommendations of Punchhi Commission, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan wouldn't have ventured to play such games..
The Governor has sought the resignations of VCs in the context of the SC verdict against the VC of APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University. The fact is that the governor is the ultimate appointing authority in the appointment of all these VCs. So, what the Governor must do first is to admit his own mistakes in the appointments. How can one rectify a mistake if one doesn't own up to it?
The Governor says that there should never be any political interventions in the appointments of VCs. What he conveniently forgets is the fact that the governor himself is a political appointment. Each and every political party appoints governors according to their whims and fancies. Congress govts have no history of appointing BJP and communist leaders as governors. One of the first things that the Modi govt did when it came to power in 2014, was to dismiss all the governors appointed by the Congress govt. The Modi govt must have been more impressed by the aggression of Arif Mohammed Khan against Congress than his academic excellence and administrative capabilities.
No one will say that governor Arif Mohammed Khan is unknowledgeable. But knowledge and wisdom need not go hand in hand. The Constitution can't make such a scenario mandatory. The debates that the governor had on CAA reflected his scholarship beyond doubt. But, scholarship without a sense of justice and humaneness will never enhance our democratic sensibility. The BJP must have its own agenda in choosing Khan as the constitutional head of a state that has a sizeable Muslim population. But Governor Arif Mohammed Khan must remember that Pinarayi Vijayan is the head of the elected government in Kerala and that keralites have rejected the BJP in the assembly election in toto. How many governors have got a place in the hearts of the people? How many former governors can be recalled by their names? The fact is that it is the elected governments that bring about changes in the lives of the people, not governors.
Fathima Beevi, Gopal Krishna Gandhi
In 2007 when the Nandigram agitation was at its peak, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, then Bengal governor, expressed concerns over the police violence against the protestors. It was a mild, well worded note of disagreement. Even then, the Central govt was not pleased with this expression and reminded the governor of maintaining decorum of his office.
We must also remember the resignation of Fathima Beevi from the post of governor in Tamil Nadu in 2001. Beevi had to quit in the wake of the arrest of M Karunanidhi, DMK patriarch. The Vajpayee Govt asked Beevi to resign owing to the failure in protecting the constitution in the wake of the law and order issues that resulted out of the Jayalalithaa govt's move against the DMK leader. We should also not forget the fact that the Vajpayee govt had allowed Beevi to continue even though she was appointed by the former government. As Harish Khare, the renowned journalist, wrote that was old India and there was a commitment to the federal principle.
The storms in tea cup
It is a reality that the appointments in the universities in Kerala have been tarred by nepotism and corruption. That is why the people in the state came forward to support the initial fights of the governor against the CPM-led government. But then the governor began crossing the limits. He simply forgot his territory. When Irfan Habib, one of the foremost historians in India, is termed as goonda and Gopinath Ravindran, the Kannur university VC, is called a criminal by the governor, that becomes a game without any rules. Add to this the absurd demand by the governor that KN Balagopal, the FM of Kerala, should resign because he has lost the pleasure of the governor and the cycle of comedy completes a circle.
It is relevant here to ask the pertinent question why governor Khan kept silent when the accused in the Bilkis Banu case were freed from prisons. The Khan, who had no compromise with communalism is a memory. Maybe these squabbles are reflections of the internal conflict that emanates from this past. Respected governor, you can't retrieve the old Khan, who rebelled against Rajiv Gandhi, the old Arif, who went out of BSP protesting against the alliance with BJP, through these meaningless, hollow struggles. These storms in the tea cups can only satisfy one's petty egos. They can never bring in any radical changes anywhere.