Kozhikode: Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala and several other lawmakers in Kerala criticised governor Arif Mohammed Khan’s decision to deny approval to convene the state assembly for a special session.
Khan had decided not to allow the assembly to convene to discuss, and pass a resolution against, three controversial farm laws recently passed by the Centre.
In a letter to the chief minister, the governor said he declined the cabinet recommendation for the session because the government did not follow the procedure of 15 days’ notice period. The governor further argued that the government could not satisfy him about the “emergency” reason to convene a special season without the notice period, especially when he already gave assent for the Budget session of the assembly that will start on January 8.
The proposed resolution against the Centre farm laws was expected to be supported by every member of the 140-members assembly, except the lone member of the BJP.
According to reports, this is the first time that a governor has refused to give assent to the cabinet decision to convene the state assembly.
Khan’s decision invited criticism and protest gatherings from both ruling and opposition parties.
In a letter sent to the governor, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the former’s decision goes against the constitution, Supreme Court judgments and established democratic traditions.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala called the governor’s decision as “undemocratic”.
The resolution will, however, be tabled in the assembly during the budget session.
‘Farmer uprising is biggest in history’
Denied the permission to convene the assembly, the chief minister and his colleagues in the cabinet attended a programme, quickly arranged near the assembly under the banner of the ruling alliance Left Democratic Front (LDF), and expressed their solidarity with the protesting farmers.
In his opening remarks, the chief minister unleashed an attack on the Modi government, and avoided a direct clash with the governor.
“The ongoing protest is the biggest farmer uprising that the country has ever seen,” the chief minister said while inaugurating the event. “The farmers’ demands are the demands of the nation,” he said.
Vijayan also said that the ongoing farm protest is a “mass, collective” movement that can’t be defeated by the Modi government, which, according to Vijayan, usually “divides and destroys” popular protest movements. “The government’s arrogance collapsed before the steadfastness of the farm protesters,” he added. He called the Centre to accept the protesters’ demand and repeal the laws.
According to reports, the state government is considering making laws to counter the controversial laws passed by the parliament, arguing that ‘agriculture’ is an area where the state assemblies have lawmaking powers according to the Seventh Schedule of Indian constitution.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala has also called for legislation of new state laws to counter the controversial farm laws of the central government. He wrote a letter to Vijayan recommending this. Speaking at a meeting of opposition MLAs, former chief minister and veteran Congress leader Oommen Chandy also made the same suggestion. At least three Congress-led state assemblies – Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan – have already passed laws of this kind.
The governor’s stand
According to the Raj Bhavan, the official communication from the government regarding the special session of the assembly, to be held on December 23, reached the governor on December 21, only hours after the governor gave his assent for the budget session. This prompted the governor to seek a detailed explanation from the government on why it wanted to convene the assembly as an emergency.
The Raj Bhavan claims that the state government could not give a convincing reason. However, a letter sent by governor to the chief minister itself says that the latter informed him that the special session was planned to discuss “serious issues in the agricultural sector and the problems faced by the farming community which are matters of general public interest” and “the ongoing protest by farmers”.
The governor, however, was not convinced. According to the Raj Bhavan, the government wanted to discuss in the assembly a problem for which it has “no jurisdiction to offer any solution”.
Besides the lawmakers, many legal experts also question the governor Khan’s decision.
Advocate T. Asaf Ali, former Director General of Prosecution in the state, said the governor has “no legal power” to disallow the state assembly to convene. “The governor is constitutionally responsible to approve a cabinet decision to convene the assembly,” he told The Wire.
However, Kerala BJP leaders, including its only member of the assembly O. Rajagopal, lauded the governor’s decision.
Notably, this is not the first time that governor Arif Khan’s actions have initiated a controversy. Earlier, he took an opposite position when the state assembly unanimously passed a resolution against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, another controversial law passed by the parliament.
Muhammed Sabith is an independent journalist based in Kozhikode, Kerala. He can be reached at email@example.com.