The tussle between Kerala’s Left Democratic Front government and governor Arif Mohammad Khan escalated on Thursday as he accused chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office of patronising smuggling. Khan said he never interfered with governance but has every right to interfere if such “illegal activities” take place.
“His secretary was removed. Now books are also being written about it. People sitting in the CM [chief minister]’s office dictate VCs [vice chancellors] to appoint their relatives who are under-qualified or unqualified,” Khan said in New Delhi.
“If the CM’s office is involved in smuggling, I will interfere. If they make illegal appointments in universities, I will interfere. I do not know why the CM office is getting involved in such illegal activities.”
Khan said he never appointed anyone to universities. He added he was only pointing out “illegal appointments” there. Khan said he was ready to quit if Vijayan could prove his allegation that the governor made some appointments to please the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
He asked journalists to read the book of Swapna Suresh, an accused in the 2020 gold smuggling case, about these activities and her nexus with people in power.
The case surfaced in July 2020 when the customs seized 30 kg of gold hidden in bathroom fittings camouflaged as diplomatic baggage meant for the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. Vijayan’s principal secretary, M Sivasankar, was arrested for his alleged links with some of the accused. Five central agencies are investigating the case. The Enforcement Directorate has moved the Supreme Court for shifting the case from Kerala alleging threats and intimidation.
Khan said Vijayan and the Left Front were accusing him of making appointments at RSS’s behest. “Will he [Vijayan] be able to resign if he is not able to approve his charges?” He asked Vijayan to prove his allegations.
He rejected the allegation that he was an RSS nominee. “If I point out serious lapses in varsities how can I become RSS overnight.”
Vijayan on Wednesday lashed out at Khan for trying to impose RSS’s agenda in state universities. “He is trying to undermine the progress in the higher education sector and trying to implement saffron [RSS] agenda. He wants to form a parallel government but we will oppose it strongly.”
The Opposition Congress questioned Khan’s silence until now over the gold smuggling case. “He could have acted two years ago when the smuggling case surfaced. Now he is saying the CM’s office patronised everything. He should act rather than make tit-for-tat statements,” said state Congress chief K Sudhakaran MP.
The uneasy relationship between the state government and Khan soured in August when he refused to sign 11 ordinances brought. The government was forced to call a special assembly session to pass these legislations.
Khan later signed nine bills the assembly passed. He withheld his consent to two meant to curtail the powers of the Lokayukta and the chancellor of universities. Later Vijayan and Khan called separate press conferences to attack each other.
Khan last month said if ministers continue to lower the dignity of his office “he will withdraw his pleasure.” But Khan clarified it was not a threat to sack any minister. Vijayan hit back and asked Khan not to become “a subject of self-ridicule.”