Thousands of Left Democratic Front (LDF) workers marched to Raj Bhavan under the aegis of the Vidyabhasa Samrakshana Samiti (Education Protection Council) to protest Governor Arif Mohammed Khan’s alleged trespasses on the jurisdictional autonomy of State universities.
The protest unfolded amid an increasingly tense political atmosphere marked by an uncharacteristic war of words between the government and the Governor.
In New Delhi, Mr. Khan defended the democratic right to protest. Nevertheless, he said political defiance would have no bearing on the discharge of his constitutional obligations as the Chancellor.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his Cabinet colleagues conspicuously stayed away from the protest venue to stave off any Opposition accusation of breach of constitutional propriety.
The protesters demanded that Mr. Khan mend his ways and uphold federal principles but stopped short of demanding the Governor’s recall. However, DMK leader Thiruchi Sivam, MP, who expressed his party’s solidarity with the LDF cause at the protest venue, raised the demand.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who inaugurated the march, said Kerala would find a common cause with other non-BJP- ruled States, primarily neighbouring Tamil Nadu, to defeat what he termed as the RSS-controlled Central government’s assault on higher education, diversity, scientific temper and federalism.
Mr. Yechury accused Mr. Khan of misusing his constitutional office to advance the Narendra Modi government’s “sinister political aim” to wrest control of State universities.
He said the Modi government wanted State university laws to align with University Grants Commission (UGC) norms to centralise higher education policy.
However, the UGC Act passed by the Lok Sabha is a subordinate legislation and could not supersede the University Laws passed by a State’s legislature, Mr. Yechury said.
The Centre has no right to infringe on the right of State governments to decide matters relating to State universities. Any such move is a direct assault on federalism, he added.
Mr. Yechury said Governors did not become Chancellors of State varsities by default. State legislation that established universities accorded Governors their powers as Chancellors. Hence, State Assemblies possessed the inherent legislative power to remove Governors from the Chancellor’s post.
He said the RSS viewed liberal varsities as an impediment to establishing a “Hindu Rashtra” founded on obscurantism, distorted history, blind faith and revanchism.
Mr. Yechury also drew a parallel between the Modi government and Hitler’s genocidal Nazi regime in Germany.
“The German people were a progressive nation till the Nazis supplanted reason and tolerance with hate. Everything was reduced to a personality cult, where what the leader says is the absolute truth. This is precisely what is happening in India under Mr. Modi,” he said.
CPI(M) State secretary M.V. Govindan, CPI State secretary Kanam Rajendran and Kerala Congress (M) chairman Jose. K. Mani, also spoke.