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Kerala Governor-Chief Minister tussle blurs people’s woes

Kerala’s politics is witnessing dramatic events with the simmering tension between Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan spilling over onto the streets. This raises concerns about Kerala’s political stability and its impact on governance.

Previously confined to the arena of media pronouncements and press releases, the friction between the two leaders has now become a visible spectacle. The tipping point came when Vijayan challenged Khan’s actions at public meetings held as part of Nava Kerala Sadas Yathra, a programme where the Chief Minister and his Cabinet are touring the state and holding meetings to showcase the government’s achievements.

This public rebuke seemingly struck a nerve, prompting Khan to take adramatic stepon December 11 night. While Khan was on his way to the airport in Thiruvananthapuram, protesters belonging to the Students Federation of India (SFI) protested en route and some reports suggest they even hit his car. A visibly angry Khan, stepped out of his car and challenged the protesters.

The ruling Left parties are protesting against Khan’s decisions which have not been in sync with that of the government’s. The Left has accused Khan of attempting to ‘saffornise’ Kerala’s higher educational institutions, and the Left-leaning student associations vowed to not allow Khan into any of the campuses in Kerala.

Undeterred by these protests, Khan decided to stay in the Calicut University campus guest house for three days starting December 16. Since then tensions have been simmering with the SFI continuing with its protests, and the Governor taking objection to banners displayed on campus. Reports suggest that the protests are likely to spill to other places in the state, including the state capitalThiruvananthapuram.This heightened animosity could potentially pave the way for the President’s Ruleinthestate.

Students involved in blocking Khan’s convoy on December 11 night have been charged underSection 124of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This section applies to those who assault or use criminal force against the President, Governor, or other officials to hinder their lawful duties.

Although the Kerala Police initially refrained from pressing charges, Khan’s intervention led to the application of Section 124 against the students. The application of Section 124, which carries a seven-year sentence, elevates the level of concern surrounding this incident.

If the current Vijayan-Khan tension further escalates, the possibility of the Union government invoking Article 356 and imposing President’s Rule cannot be discounted. The Left-ruled state government could even view such a move as a strategic advantage for the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The Left parties could frame such an action by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Centre as the price it has had to pay for fighting ‘Right-wing fascism’. This could potentially galvanise the Left’s base and mobilise support.

Interestingly, the Left’s current approach to combating Right-wing ideology in Kerala seems to rely heavily on historical narratives like the north Kerala killings and holding beef festivals, rather than pursuing electoral victories or grassroots mobilisation.

With only three years remaining until the assembly elections, the imposition of President’s Rule could prove advantageous for the Left, particularly given the state government’s currentfinancial difficulties.

Currently, the Left-led Kerala government has locked horns with the Union government in the Supreme Court over borrowing restrictions. Kerala argues that the Union government’s limits on its borrowing capacity are financially crippling and violate the principles of federalism. However, the Union government counters that Kerala’s own financial mismanagement is to blame for its current predicament.

Unfortunately, the Kerala government has asked the Union government to increase its borrowing limit instead of seeking ways to generate revenue. Kerala’s financial crisis is hitting critical areas:welfare pensionsfor the elderly, freebread and milksupplies for inpatients in government hospitals, andscholarships for studentsare facing disruption/suspension.

Vijayan appears to be deflecting attention by engaging in a heated public spat with Khan, who in turn, has stooped to criticising student groups and peddling unsubstantiated theories of the Chief Minister trying to hurt him.

While this political face-off is underway with it dominating the headlines, the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities and the daily struggles of the ordinary people are getting muffled.

Seventy-two-year-old Khan may find satisfaction in his public pronouncements, and the Left government may view potential President’s Rule as a chance to bolster its anti-fascist stance, the common public is left unheard and forgotten. They bear the brunt of this headline-grabbing spat through inflated bills, long queues at empty ration shops, and a growing sense of neglect.

Yes, the spat between Kerala’s Governor and Chief Minister has shifted the focus away from the real woes of the people.

(Rejimon Kuttappan is a journalist, and author of Undocumented. X: @rejitweets.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 18 December 2023, 05:27 IST)

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