V-Cs Are The Newest Chapter in Tamil Nadu's 'Governor Versus Government' Conflict

Stalin's DMK, always in favour of abolishing the governor's post, has had reason in the recent past to express unhappiness with R.N. Ravi, especially over the latter's alleged delay on the NEET Bill.

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Chennai: The Tamil Nadu assembly passed a resolution that would empower the state government to appoint vice-chancellors to universities just as the state’s governor R.N. Ravi was inaugurating a conference of university vice-chancellors at Udhagamandalam.

The power to appoint V-Cs rests with the governor, who makes these appointments ‘in consultation with the government.’

Speaking at the state assembly, chief minister M.K. Stalin said that in the last four years, the state government was not consulted by the governor over the appointment of university V-Cs. This, Stalin said, does not “augur well for higher education in the state.”

Stalin pointed to the Gujarat University Act, 1949, and Telangana Universities Act, 1991, under which the respective state governments got powers to appoint V-Cs.

Meanwhile, Bharatiya Janata Party state president K. Annamalai has tweeted that the move would “politicise” higher educational institutions.

The timing of the Bill, which coincided with the conference – which was allegedly held without informing or inviting the state government – is just another talking point in what is now a running feud between the governor and the Tamil Nadu government.

The tussle has grown over several bills that are pending with the governor for his assent, including one that seeks exemption from the NEET. The governor had sent back this Bill in February following which it was re-adopted in the state assembly and sent again. Though the governor had then assured the chief minister that the Bill would be sent for presidential assent, nothing has been done yet. DMK’s mouthpiece Murasoli has also hit out against the governor for the delay in forwarding the ‘anti-NEET’ Bill.

Leader of Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Edapaddi K. Palaniswami with AIADMK MLAs walkout with black batches in connection with NEET suicides during the State Budget Session, at Kalaivanar Arangam in Chennai, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. Photo: PTI

At least twice since then, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham’s parliamentary party leader T.R. Baalu has raised the issue in parliament, urging the Union government to recall the governor over this “constitutional deadlock”. DMK MPs had also raised slogans in the parliament, demanding the same.

Meanwhile, DMK MP P. Wilson has moved a private member bill seeking a fixed time for a governor to decide on pending bills.

DMK MP and senior advocate N.R. Elango told The Wire that the constitution does not specify a time frame for governors and presidents when it comes to assent, because there is a “legitimate expectation from the makers of the constitution that the governors will discharge their duties at the earliest.”

“As a Constitutional authority, they cannot be expected to delay things. When the expectations of the framers of the constitution are violated, there is naturally a sentiment against it.”

Elango also says that the provision for the governor or the president to act on a bill is not discretionary. “It is governed by law. Also except for a few matters like Article 356, which requires sanction to prosecute a person like a cabinet minister, the governor is bound by the aid and advice of the council of ministers. By violating it, the governor is not exercising his powers in a manner known to law or as per law.”

‘Double standards’

Recalling an incident during the previous AIADMK regime when Stalin, as the them opposition leader, had met the governor after a ruckus in the state assembly, seeking intervention, AIADMK spokesperson Babu Murugavel has accused the party of double standards. “If the governor was all-powerful then, why is the DMK not allowing him to exercise his powers now?” he asked.

He said that the governor had got no time to decide on the bills. “The AIADMK government too had sent a resolution against NEET to the governor and we followed up through democratic means by meeting the prime minister and the president and putting pressure on the governor. Not by hurling things at the governor’s convoy,” he said.

On April 19, about hundred protestors from various political parties waved black flags to governor Ravi as he travelled to Mayiladuthurai for a function at the Dharmapuram Atheenam Mutt. Some tried to hurl the flagpoles at Ravi’s convoy, leading to a minor scuffle.

People wave black flags at TN Governor R.N. Ravi’s convoy. Photo: PTI

Condemning the incident, Annamalai said it was a compromise on the governor’s security. Chief minister Stalin, however, brushed this concern away and said that police had taken steps to ensure that the governor’s convoy passed through without any incident. He told the state assembly that police had already filed cases against the protestors and action will be taken.

But there is more to the discomfort.

Governor Ravi’s remarks on how the nation was marching forward to fulfil “Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of Ram Rajya” on the occasion of Ram Navami celebrations has also reportedly not gone down well with the ruling party – which is aggressively projecting a Dravidian model to be emulated at the national level.

Also read: ‘After All, My Name Is Stalin’: In a Speech at CPI(M) Congress, a Roadmap to Counter BJP

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi MLA Sinthanai Selvan also demanded in the state assembly that the governor be allotted a bungalow on Greenways Road, where ministers reside and that the Raj Bhavan should be put to public use.

On April 14, the DMK, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the VCK had boycotted the annual tea party hosted by the governor in a mark of protest against his “undemocratic actions against the interest of the people.”

This series of events has sparked the usual range of debates on the abolition of the governor’s post – an idea that the DMK has traditionally held on to. DMK’s founder and former chief minister C.N. Annadurai had famously drawn a comparison between the governor’s post and a goat’s beard, to stress on its redundancy.

Meanwhile, there have been independent efforts to recall the governor. “There is no other option,” senior lawyer of Madras high court M. Radhakrishnan tells The Wire. “In every matter, he [governor Ravi] acts unconstitutionally and some of us lawyers are seriously considering the option of filing a public interest litigation to recall the governor,” he added.