Kerala governor reads anti-CAA para, but after disagreeing
Governor Arif Mohammad Khan read out a reference to Kerala’s resolution opposing the controversial citizenship act in the state government’s vision document in the assembly on Wednesday, but made his reservations on the subject clear and pointed out that he only honoured the chief minister’s wish in what some constitutional experts described as a departure from practice.
Khan, who has been at odds with the Left-ruled state government on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, faced protests from a section of Opposition lawmakers who blocked his way and shouted slogans. Khan had to be escorted to the podium by security personnel inside the assembly hall.
“I am going to read this para [mentioning the anti-CAA resolution] because the honourable chief minister [Pinarayi Vijayan] wants me to read this, although I hold the view that this does not come under the definition of the policy or programme,” Khan said midway into his speech.
On December 31, the Kerala assembly unanimously passed the resolution demanding the scrapping of CAA, becoming the first state in the country to do so. The Congress-ruled Punjab and Rajasthan, and the Trinamool Congress-ruled West Bengal have passed similar resolutions since. Kerala has also moved the Supreme Court against the Act.
Paragraph 18, which was at the centre of Wednesday’s discussion and read out by Khan in the assembly, said, “Citizenship can never be on the basis of religion, as this goes against the grain of secularism which is part of the basic structure of the Constitution”.
Khan has maintained that citizenship issues have to be dealt with by the Centre and that states have no power on the subject. He has expressed his dissatisfaction on the resolution, and also questioned Kerala’s move to approach the top court. In his speech, Khan said: “Strong states and strong Centre are pillars of our federalism. The voices of genuine apprehension of the states need to be considered by the central government in the right spirit keeping broad national interest in mind, particularly when constitutional values are involved and there are widespread anxieties and apprehensions among a large number of our citizenry.”
Khan said he received a letter from CM Vijayan, who requested him to read the government’s policy address in entirety without “additions or deletions”.
CAA, passed in December in Parliament’s winter session, fast-tracks the citizenship process for refugees of Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Parsi, Jain and Buddhist faiths who entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before 2015. Opponents of CAA say the act is unconstitutional because it links faith to citizenship in a secular country and discriminatory because it leaves out Muslims.
Former Lok Sabha secretary general PDT Achary said as per convention and Constitution, a governor is head of a state and is bound to read out the speech approved by the government. “He is not responsible for the contents of the speech and this is a practice prevailing in various democracies where parliamentary system is present,” Achary said. Even if the governor adds or subtracts to the speech, it would not be taken on record, he added.
Under Article 176 (1) of the Constitution, a governor is required to deliver a policy statement of the state government in the first session of the assembly and the first session of the year. The article does not specify whether the governor has to read the full speech. Wednesday marked the first day of the Kerala assembly’s budget session — the first of the year — that will conclude of February 12.
A governor’s discretionary power is not codified in the Constitution, but is scattered in its various parts. A governor, as a head of the state, derives his or her power from Article 163. There is no bar on him on giving suggestions. But s/he is bound by the aid and advice of council of ministers in the exercise of all his functions under this article.
In the past, governors have skipped portions of their speeches. In 2018, then Kerala governor P Sathasivam skipped parts that were considered critical of the central government. In 1969, West Bengal governor Dharma Vira deleted a section of the address prepared by the state government.
When Khan was being ushered into the assembly hall by speaker P Sreeramakrishnan and CM Vijayan on Wednesday, some Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) members blocked him, shouted “Go Back” and held banners that read “Repeal CAA” and “Recall Governor”. The speaker tried to pacify the agitators. Finally, ward personnel cleared his path to the dais. As Khan was leaving the assembly, reporters asked him about the protests. Khan said he has faced worse protests.
Leader of Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala said the state government and the governor had come to a “truce”. “The double standards of the chief minister have been exposed. The CM begged the governor to read the policy address in full...It is proved beyond doubt the government is supporting the governor, who criticises the assembly. It seems Pinarayi Vijayan has entered into an agreement with the [Narendra] Modi government to save himself from the Lavalin graft case,” he said.
The Supreme Court has been hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Kerala high court’s 2018 order discharging Vijayan, the then state electricity minister, and others in an alleged graft case involving an award of contract to Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin for the renovation and modernisation of three hydroelectric projects in 1995.
The Left government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hit back at the Congress. “Who gave authority to Congress to stop the Governor? By blocking the Governor, the UDF has insulted the people of Kerala,” BJP leader Kummanam Rajashekharan said.
Law minister AK Balan said: “It shows the Congress will stoop low for some publicity.”
(With agency inputs)