Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan's move to seek the resignation of vice-chancellors of nine universities has kicked up a huge political storm in the southern state with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday issuing a stern warning to the Constitutional head asking him not to cross the limits of his powers.
Meanwhile, the ruling Left Democratic Front announced two-day state-wide protests beginning on Tuesday.
Amid growing tension between the Raj Bhavan and the Left government, Khan, using his powers as the chancellor, issued show-cause notices to vice-chancellors of nine universities after they refused to send their resignation letters to him before 11.30 am on Monday as per his directive on Sunday.
The vice-chancellors have been given time till November 3 to respond.
The 'unusual steps' initiated by Khan also led to a legal battle with eight vice-chancellors challenging the chancellor's move in the Kerala high court.
The high court held a special sitting on Monday evening, despite being a holiday for Diwali and ordered that the vice-chancellors can continue in their respective posts and they can be removed only after following due procedure.
Justice Devan Ramachandran, who heard the urgent plea filed by the eight vice-chancellors, said the communication sent by the Chancellor was not proper.
The court noted that since the chancellor has given time till November 3 to the vice- chancellors to show cause as to why they should not be ousted, the communication seeking resignation lost its importance.
In their pleas, the VCs told the court that the entire action of the chancellor asking them to resign within 24 hours was illegal, if not mala fide.
Khan, in a press conference, justified his actions against the vice-chancellors, saying the notices were issued upholding the verdict of the Supreme Court, which has declared as 'void ab initio' any appointment as a vice-chancellor made on the recommendation of the Search Committee, which is constituted contrary to the provisions of the UGC regulation.
"Now, they have refused to resign. Now formal notices have been issued," Khan said.
The Governor also rejected the allegations of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan that the VCs have been denied natural justice.
"I only suggested an honourable way out. I have not sacked them", the Governor said.
Earlier, Chief Minister Vijayan held a press conference in Palakkad, lashing out at Khan for seeking resignation of vice-chancellors and said the Governor has no such powers.
Accusing Khan of acting against the Constitution and the essence of democracy, the CM alleged that the Governor's move was an encroachment on the powers of a democratically elected government, and the universities that are supposed to be academically independent.
Vijayan termed as 'unusual' the move by the Governor and accused him of 'waging war' with an intention to 'destroy' the universities in the state.
"It was the Governor who appointed the VCs of these nine universities and if these appointments were made illegally, then the primary responsibility lies with the Governor himself," the chief minister said, adding that the chancellor has no authority to seek their resignations.
Hitting back at Vijayan, the Governor said if somebody indulges in cheppadividya (jugglery) then a dose of little pippidi (tricks) is needed.
"If you indulge in cheppadividya...then it has become absolutely necessary to give a dose of pippidi," the Governor told a press conference.
The Governor used the colloquial Malayalam terms to give a reply to the chief minister in response to Vijayan's usage of pippidi in his earlier speeches targeting Khan.
Later, addressing a public meeting organised by the Communist Party of India-Marxist in Palakkad, Vijayan continued his attack against the Governor, claiming that Khan would not be able to go beyond his constitutional powers.
"You have powers and privileges as you are holding the office of the Governor. You should function within the ambit of those powers. You cannot move an inch beyond that limit. You have constitutionally derived powers. Those powers are very clear that you have to function according to the advice of the state government," the chief minister said.
Meanwhile, the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF announced a two-day state-wide protest against the Governor from tomorrow, accusing him of working in accordance with the directive of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
In a statement, LDF convenor E P Jayarajan said Kerala was moving ahead by strongly defending the Sangh Parivar's agenda of taking over the higher education sector.
"A strong resistance against such a move to destroy the education sector of Kerala needs to come from the entire people who love the state," the LDF convener said and called for a broad popular movement against the Raj Bhavan's alleged move against the Universities.
Meanwhile, differences have cropped up within the Congress-led UDF over the issue with a section taking sides with Khan and another against the LDF government.
While All India Congress Committee general secretary K C Venugopal said the action of Kerala Governor was the latest attempt of the central government to interfere in the higher education sector across the country in violation of democratic and constitutional values, senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala claimed that the Governor sought the resignation of the VCs based on the Supreme Court verdict.
"The UDF still stands by its opinion that the appointment of the VCs in the universities of the state political appointments", Chennithala said.
Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan also echoed almost similar voice aired by Chennithala. Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a key partner in the UDF, however, criticised the Governor's actions.