The ongoing tussle between the Raj Bhavan and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala escalated further on Wednesday with Governor Arif Mohammed Khan writing to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan seeking 'constitutionally appropriate' action against Finance Minister K N Balagopal for making a speech 'undermining India's unity', and the latter firmly turning down the demand.
'A minister who deliberately violates the oath and undermines the unity and integrity of India cannot continue to enjoy my pleasure. In these circumstances, I am left with no option but to convey that Finance Minister Balagopal has ceased to enjoy my pleasure,' the Governor said in an unprecedented action, which was strongly criticised by both ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist and Opposition Congress.
A Congress leader said the Governor was 'not God that he cannot be questioned' by political leaders.
In his letter, the Governor expressed hope the chief minister will 'consider the matter with seriousness it deserves and take action which is constitutionally appropriate'.
The chief minister rejected the demand assertively, reiterating his trust on Balagopal, saying it remains 'undiminished'.
In the letter, the Governor did not explicitly seek removal/withdrawal of Balagopal from the LDF cabinet but it seemed to be the essence of his communication to Vijayan.
A highly-placed source said that in his response, Vijayan said that from a constitutional perspective and factoring in the democratic conventions and traditions of the country, the statement cannot warrant a ground for cessation of enjoyment of the Governor's pleasure.
The Governor will appreciate that no further action needs to be taken in the matter, Vijayan said, according to the source.
In his letter to the Chief Minister, the Governor alleged Balagopal delivered a speech at a university campus here on October 18, seeking to stoke the fire of regionalism and provincialism and undermining the unity of India and that he was left with no option but to convey that the finance minister has 'ceased to enjoy my pleasure'.
Stating that the reported statements of Balagopal are nothing short of violation of oath he had administered to him, Khan directed Vijayan to take action which was 'constitutionally appropriate'.
This is the first such move by the governor after the Raj Bhavan PRO tweeted on October 17 that the chief minister and Council of Ministers have the right to advise the governor but statements of individual ministers that lower the dignity of the office of the Governor, can invite action including 'withdrawal of pleasure'.
Khan's unprecedented move also came amidst a political storm in the state over his actions seeking removal of 11 vice chancellors of universities in the state in his capacity as chancellor.
The CPI-M and the Congress joined hands to criticise Khan for seeking 'constitutionally appropriate' action against Balagopal over his recent speech, even as the latter expressed doubt whether the tussle between the Governor and the government was 'fake'.
While CPI-M state secretary M V Govindan alleged that Khan was trying to implement the 'BJP-RSS agenda' and urged him to act in accordance with the Constitutional and legal norms, Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly V D Satheesan said his demand to withdraw the minister should be dismissed with 'due contempt'.
Addressing a press conference here, Govindan said as per the Constitutional provisions and the Supreme Court verdicts in this regard, the 'pleasure of the Governor' could not be personal and withdraw as per individual choices.
There was no remark amounting to any personal insult in the recent speech by Balagopal as alleged by the Governor, he said extending complete support to the finance minister.
Satheesan said in New Delhi that Khan's action would cause no administrative crisis in the state and the opposition would surely point out if the Governor exercises a power which he does not actually have.
Stepping up the attack, he said the Governor is not 'God who cannot be questioned' and it was the opposition who criticised him even before the ministers.
In his letter to the chief minister, the Governor quoted the newspaper reports of October 19 carrying comments made by Balagopal and state Higher Education Minister R Bindu at a function organised at Karyavattom campus of the Kerala University and alleged that those were 'clearly aimed at tarnishing the image of the Governor and lowering the dignity of office of the Governor'.
'But the most disturbing were the comments made by the finance minister which seek to stoke the fire of regionalism and provincialism and if allowed to go unchecked they may have an erosive and baneful influence on our national unity and integrity,' the Governor said in the letter.
It carried the newspaper reports quoting Balagopal who reportedly said at the function that those who come from places like Uttar Pradesh may find it tough to understand universities in Kerala.
Balagopal, a former Rajya Sabha member, reportedly continued saying, "Security guards of the Vice Chancellor of Banaras University had shot down five students. Then I was an MP and had gone there. The vice chancellor had 50 to 100 security guards. This is the situation in many universities there."
Governor Khan said, "The above mentioned remarks of the Finance Minister seek to create a wedge between Kerala and other States of Indian Union and project a false impression as if different States of India have different systems of higher education."
Khan said the comments of the finance minister not only undermined the national unity and integrity but also the constitutional convention that makes it necessary that the Governor of each state shall be from outside the state.
Khan's recent move to seek the resignation of vice-chancellors of nine universities had kicked up a huge political storm in the southern state.
Chief Minister Vijayan has issued a stern message to the Governor asking him not to cross the limits of his powers.