Kerala Governor, Arif Mohammad Khan through an unusual action denied permission for holding a special assembly session to pass a resolution against the Centre's farm laws which have triggered country-wide protests of epic proportions. The constitutional provision, and the precedent so far, about convening assembly sessions is that the governor gives his accord when the cabinet recommends holding a session. As per Article 174 of the Constitution it is the governor who has to convene a meeting, and he is bound to accept the cabinet's recommendation, except in cases where he has discretionary powers under Article 163. And the Supreme Court has clarified on more than one occasion that there is no discretion in convening a session as per Article 174 (1) and that he is bound to accept the cabinet's recommendation. On this basis, most of the constitutional experts on the ruling and opposition sides of Kerala are of the opinion that the governor's action goes against the constitution. And it is also the first instance in the history of Kerala Assembly for a governor to decline nod for an assembly session after the cabinet has asked for it.
Despite the governor's refusal - in a rather humiliating manner - the government has displayed the caution not to come with any strong response to him. Even at the inauguration of farmer's protest in the capital, the chief minister did not venture to criticise the governor. Whereas the opposition and the ruling party CPI criticised the governor and alleged that his act was politically motivated, the CPM Acting Secretary Vijayaraghavan reacted that it was only an issue between two constitutional institutions. But after the governor's letter with item-wise reply to the chief minister came to the public domain, the CPM and the government have stiffened their voice and decided urgently to hold an assembly session on 31 December. If the governor declines his consent a second time, that will harden the conflict between the two constitutional institutions and make a legal battle inevitable.
The cabinet's earlier decision was to convene an assembly session from January 8. It was on December 21 that the government sought consent to cancel that and have an urgent session on 23rd. The governor blames that there was no clarity on what the urgent importance was, and that only after seeking the chief minister's explanation twice did he understand it was to support the farmers' protest against the central farm laws. The reason he cites for refusing consent is a politicl standpoint: that there need not be an emergency session of the assembly to pass a resolution against what has been signed off by the President. This statement alone will suffice to establish that what Arif Mohammad Khan applied is not a constitutional provision but rather his own volition. As a matter of fact, the very point why an assembly session should be held is outside the governor's call and vested with the cabinet. This is not the first act of violating the federalism of the country and eroding the credibility of constitutional institutions from Arif Mohammad Khan, which amounts to toeing the line of political masters. He had earlier come out strongly against the state assembly's resolution initiated by the government against the Citizenship Amendment Act. It is rather illogical that the governor, who had signed an anti-democratic amendment to the Police Act without raising any reservations, now challenges the right of the assembly to declare solidarity with the historic protest of farmers.
The use of high-handed powers by the governors in non-BJP ruled states has become a standard feature of the Modi government era. The BJP is exercising through Arif Mohammad Khan the same tactics in Kerala which the governors of West Bengal, Maharashtra and Jammu-Kashmir had used in those states – all of which tantamount to insulting democratic institutions. The practice of even putting on a neutral face while heading a constitutional institutions, despite having antecedents of political affiliations, is disappearing during the BJP rule. The concept of protecting the sanctity of federalism, has also been exempted from the brief of gubernatorial posts. Governors have now come to a state of bowing before the fascist dictates that their loyalty should not to be to the constitution or democratic values, but to the hegemonistic position of the Centre that unfairly interferes wih the powers of state governments. In such an unseemly situation, it is imperative for the assembly to meet on December 31 for not only a declaration of solidarity with the farmer protests but also to reject the destruction of constitutional rights of democratic institutions. The unity of Kerala's treasury bench and the opposition in this matter is highly laudable.