From Kerala Governor, rare praise for Pinarayi Vijayan’s role in Covid-19 battle
It is rare to hear governors praise governments in states where parties with other ideological persuasions are in power. But, faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan has banded together with chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. In an interview to Vinod Sharma, Khan praises the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government for controlling the disease, and talks about the roles governors can play in such a situation. Edited excerpts:
You’ve had differences with the chief minister, especially his stand against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act? Are you on the same page on Covid-19 crisis?
We need not read too much in those differences. My duty was to uphold the Constitution, and to let them know that the subject of citizenship comes exclusively under the jurisdiction of the central government. As individual or even as a party they have every right to criticise CAA, but the state government and legislature are under a constitutional obligation to abide by the law passed by Parliament.
Don’t forget that despite my clear understanding that CAA was beyond the state government’s purview, I agreed to read the paragraph critical of CAA in my address to the assembly. What made me concede was the letter of the chief minister in which he did not question the issue of jurisdiction or opposed CAA on any principle, but asserted that it involves the question of law-and-order in the state. It was the same argument that was made during the Shah Bano episode when minister after minister defended the move to reverse the judgment of Supreme Court in Parliament - not on the grounds of principle but that large scale demonstrations are happening and if judgment is not reversed then peace may be endangered.
Other than CAA, we are on the same page -- not only in the fight against coronavirus but on almost all issues. Kerala is a progressive state; the government is doing excellent work, and I am keen to see they take their good work to more heights.
The first Covid-19 case in India was detected in Kerala in January. It subsequently became the country’s first hot spot, but has since flattened the curve. What has made its public health model click?
The hot spots were confined to two districts. It is important to keep in mind that almost 80% of the cases were those who came from foreign countries, or foreigners. This means that contact infection was only 20%. This is irrefutable evidence of the proactive and vigilant role played by the state government. The CM and the health minister were on their toes, and were helped by their colleagues who were put in charge of different districts.
Kerala society has a strong sense of empathy and voluntarism. For instance, Kudumbshree, an NGO with 43 lakh women as members, was able to start 483 community kitchens within 24 hours of the lockdown, and by the next day, they were operating about 1,500 community kitchens. A few days later, they started Janakeya Food outlets and provided parcel service for all those who found it difficult to operate their home kitchens.
Additionally, more than 50,000 people registered as volunteers on different websites of the state government.
In 2018, Kerala faced the Nipah virus, and in 2019, the floods. Did past experience help in containing the spread?
Sure, the past experience was very helpful
What lessons can populous states with lower literacy, bigger geographical expanse, and larger concentration of population learn from Kerala?
One lesson is to promote women NGOs. Kudumbshree is a brilliant example of a game-changer. They are engaged basically in setting up self-help groups of women and provide them micro-financing but in emergencies like floods during last two years or the Covid-19, they provided relief quickly and effectively.
How do you view the governor’s role in the crises? Can Raj Bhawans help the Union government reach informed decisions about requirements of individual states without prejudice?
The governor has duty not only to counsel and advise, but also to encourage the state government where they are implementing programs of development and welfare. I consider it a part of my duty that I should highlight the achievements of the state, and try to help them secure more finances for their progressive schemes and I assure you that I spare no opportunity to do so.
In Kerala, I am representative of the Hon. President of India, but outside Kerala I behave more like a representative of Kerala. I feel pleasure in highlighting the achievements of the state and very positive features of the Kerala society. Let me also say that Malayalis are sturdy patriots and very proud Indians.