Autonomy of universities: War of words between Kerala governor, state government intensifies

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A war of words between Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and the state government on autonomy of state universities aggravated on Monday with the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its junior partner in government CPI saying Khan’s sudden outbursts remain a “mystery” to them.

Both the parties said Khan was forced to come out against the Left Front government due to pressure from some quarters. Later, the Governor hit back at them saying they can call him a “Sanghi” or any other name but he will stick to what he said and no plan to take up the chancellor’s position, if universities were not given complete autonomy.

Without naming the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the left parties said the governor had a second thought after pressure from some quarters. “He approved a search committee and its findings and later signed appointment letters as well. Now, he has changed his stance all of a sudden. It is a mystery for us,” said CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. But he reiterated that the government has no plan to pursue a confrontationist line with the Governor.

CPI general secretary Kanam Rajendran said by making a letter written to the CM public, the Governor crossed all limits. “It seems he’s after news. Legislature has right to set aside powers given to the Governor as chancellor. Hope he will not pressurise us to do this,” he said.

The CPI mouthpiece “Janayugam” also carried a strong article against Khan.

But the Governor reiterated his position. “They can call me any name but my intention is clear and there is no going back on it,” he said. He said the CM can assume the chancellor post and run varsities the way he wanted and he wouldn’t be a party to it.

Khan said he was not a man to get pressurised or intimidated by anyone and people who knew him will understand this.

The Governor had sent a strongly-worded letter to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Dec 8 in which he said he was really pained over “dipping standard” of higher education sector and blamed “brazen political interference” as reason for this.

He also asked the government to take up the chancellor’s post if political interference continued and he can’t bend further. On Sunday, though the chief minister asked the Governor not to take any precipitation action but the latter refused to budge.

According to political observers, the real trigger (between Governor and government) was the reappointment of Prof Gopinath Raveendran as the vice-chancellor of Kannur University. He was reappointed for a period of four years in November after the government issued a notification and appointed a selection committee to select the new VC.

The Governor also claimed that he was flooded with too many complaints about recurring political appointments in academic council and faculty. The appointment of the wife of CM’s political secretary, KK Ragesh, in a high position at Kannur University two months back had also kicked up a controversy. In April this year, the Kerala high court had quashed the appointment of CPI(M) legislator AN Shameer’s wife Shahala as the assistant professor in Kannur University.

The opposition Congress and BJP asked the CM to drop higher education minister R Bindu from the cabinet. “She presided over everything and keeping quiet now,” said BJP state president K Surendran. “It is sheer misuse of power she can’t remain in the post,” said opposition leader V D Satheesan.

This is not the first time the Governor and government were crossing swords. During the Citizenship Amendment Act agitation, the Governor had questioned the resolution passed by the state assembly against the CAA and later opposed the government move to file a plea in the apex court.

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