The tussle between Kerala Governor Arif Muhammed Khan and the State government seemed to reach decisive stage on Wednesday when the State Cabinet extended its approval to an ordinance seeking to divest him of his title as the chancellor of all 14 universities in the state. A bill to the effect will be presented in the State Assembly during its session starting on December 5, irrespective of the Governor’s disposition to the ordinance. Even if the proposed bill passes muster in the State Assembly, it will be left to the pleasure of the Governor to sign it into law.

May be sent to President 

The State government does not expect the embattled Governor to toe its line either. Oh his part, Governor Khan has said he will refer the ordinance to the President since he cannot be expected to sign on a document that questions his own continuance as chancellor of the universities. But the government hopes the Governor will come good with his open challenge to ‘remove him as Chancellor’ and his promise to willingly sign ‘any law or legislation’ referred to him subsequently. He had made this clear at least on two occasions, including during the controversial press conference at the Raj Bhavan that he used to lambast the intent of the government and the Chief Minister. 

Assessing options available 

The options left for the Governor and the State government are (I) the Governor can sign the ordinance into law, or (ii) return it to the State government pointing out any discrepancies in the language or intent (iii) the Cabinet can choose to either incorporate the changes suggested or refuse to act and return the original to the Governor, upon which (iv) he can refer it to the President pointing out major flaws or inconsistencies, in which case (v) the State government cannot hope to move a separate Bill (vi) and, last but not least, left to themselves, neither the Governor or the President is time-bound to make known a decision on the matter. 

Punchhi Commission report

While promulgating the ordinance, the State Cabinet is known to have drawn on the MM Punchhi Commission that studied Centre-State relations, having expressed itself against granting Governors the chancellor’s powers. The Cabinet also argued that it was the Legislative Assembly had created the office of the chancellor and drafted an enabling legislation into the framework of the universities. The assertive action was only expected after the powerful Secretary of the CPI(M) went on record saying the ruling party would go to any extent to protect autonomy of the universities from the ‘Governor’s diktats.’ This came close on the heels of the three-day leadership conference of the party where it took serious exception to Khan’s continuation as chancellor. 

Opposition Leader demurs 

The CPI(M) also took comfort from the developing situation in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu where the DMK-led government is reportedly weighing the option of taking on the State Governor following altercations over various issues related to university administration. Meanwhile, VD Satheesan of the Congress and Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Assembly has stated that his party would oppose a possible bill to remove the Governor from the chancellor’s post. He said the LDF’s move was not just well-intentioned but was conspiratorial. The CPI(M)’s intention was to foist its favourite as chancellor and take total control of the higher education sector in the state, he said.