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Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and Governor Arif Mohammed Khan
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and Governor Arif Mohammed Khan
Kerala

Is Kerala Assembly’s Resolution Against CAA Just A Play For The Gallery?

A weak resolution & a PR campaign that followed have got up the hackles of even supporters of the Left

Naveen Nair

Naveen Nair

It is not the first time that the Kerala state assembly has passed resolutions over contentious issues which find them at loggerheads with the Indian Parliament.

But it is perhaps for the first time that the differing voices between the legislative body and the executive in the state had swelled into a full-blown confrontation with the Governor expressing his reservations in public over the conduct of the state assembly.

Amidst all this, the question that still lingers is whether the resolution itself, passed with a near unanimous vote except the lone legislator from the BJP who put up a dissent, serves any real purpose in the state’s fight against the implementation of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by the Union Government.

Close on the heels of passing the resolution Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had also rushed letters to chief ministers of eleven states urging them to take similar steps to express their displeasure at the CAA.

Vijayan might be wanting to project Kerala as the rally point for the entire anti-CAA protest with him and his party as the focal point. But in doing so he seems to have burned the bridges with the Governor’s office.

Matters took an ugly political turn when the state’s Governor Arif Mohammad Khan took it up on himself to set the record straight as far as the resolution was concerned. The Governor minced little words when he openly called it illegal and against the spirit of the Constitution.

“The resolution has no legal or Constitutional validity because citizenship is exclusively a central subject. This assembly resolution actually means nothing,’’ Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan told media persons on December 31 after the resolution was passed.

But the Governor seems to be outnumbered in support and looks like he is leading a lone battle against the state’s anti-CAA stand.

At a recently held State History Congress, where the Governor was the chief guest he was allegedly shouted down and heckled by a few academicians for speaking in support of CAA in his address. Matters went almost out of hand when noted historian Irfan Habib tried to physically stop the Governor from addressing the gathering.

The Governor retorted by saying “he will not be shouted down upon and his duty was to protect the Constitution at any costs”.

The legal question that he had raised too failed to find any resonance inside the state.

Legal experts are of the opinion that not only is the Governor making a mountain out of a molehill vis-à-vis the resolution but is also trying to question the state legislative’s right to express its independent views in a federal system.

Advocate Kaleeswaram Raj is a senior lawyer from the state practising at the Supreme Court of India and an expert on Constitutional matters. According to him the resolution is neither illegal nor against the tenets of the Constitution.

“In a situation where the Parliament has passed a legislation, a state legislature in a federal setup can, and I will even say, should have an opinion about such a Parliamentary legislation. There is absolutely nothing improper or even wrong about it. This is only a resolution where the state legislation has expressed its views more in the form of a request to the Parliament to consider the repealing of the statute,’’ Kaleeswaram Raj told The Lede.

Just A Perception Game?

But does the legal stance, that the state assembly was well within its rights as well as rules to pass such a resolution, entail any credit to the resolution itself?

Can the state take credit in having created a precedent for other states across the country to follow, a prime reason behind Vijayan’s tactics of rushing letters to like-minded Chief Ministers on the issue? The jury is still out on this.

Before we look at the pros and cons of the resolution it would be better to look at what the resolution actually says that led to such a tremendous din in the state over the past two weeks with the highest executive office in the state and its legislature coming to loggerheads like never before.

While the resolution starts off by mincing no words in saying that the CAA is a violation of part three of the Indian Constitution it waters down considerably towards the end with a snivelling appeal to the Union Government to consider repealing the Act. Nowhere does it say that the state will not fall in line once the Act comes into enforcement on ground. Hence an open defiance is not to be seen anywhere in the document.

“In the light of the apprehensions expressed by a large section of the citizens of the country that since the Citizenship Amendment Act is based on the criteria of religion which is against the secular fabric of our Constitution we appeal to the Union government to take necessary steps to repeal the Act,’’ says the resolution.

For starters, many say that the resolution is nothing but a lame duck that serves no purpose other than build up a perception game of protest, which leads one to pertinent question - whether it is just a damp squib aimed at the galleries.

“It is only a resolution and not a legislation. So any argument of it infringing on the right of the centre to make laws is an irrelevant one. It would have been an entirely different thing if it had intruded into the subject which is within the domain of the Parliament and legislated over that,’’ added Kaleeswaram Raj.

But this is exactly where the state government through the legislature has played it safe even when it brought about the resolution with all a lot of fanfare.

“We have not broken any Constitutional obligation. As far as the state assembly is concerned we have a responsibility to uphold the Constitutional values. So we have only passed a resolution to express our protest against this discriminatory law,’’ Kerala Assembly Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan told The Lede.

Many activists are questioning whether the state has achieved anything at all with such a resolution that lacks any expression of defiance when the common man across the country are engaged in various kinds of protests on the streets against the Act.

“See there was nothing wrong in passing a resolution. But the intent should have been to put it out in black and white that this is an unconstitutional law and the state will not stand by it. The message should have been that all the 140 MLAs barring the BJP loner in the state is against it. But I am doubtful whether such a message went out to Delhi. Rather this has become a political slugfest between the state government and the Governor which takes the focus away from the protest,’’ noted political commentator and Left ideologue NM Pearson told The Lede.

Therein lies the pertinent question. If the government and the state legislative was very well aware that such a resolution would have to be a toothless one with no legal backing to take on the union government, then what was the real intention behind bringing such a unanimous resolution which has now resulted in creating a gap between the Governor’s office and the state’s legislature?

Political analysts believe that with both the CPM led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress led United Democratic Front (UDF) jostling to gain the political upper hand with assembly elections just a year away, maximising the anti-CAA stand was the much needed political jump start.

Vote Bank Politics

The Left parties in Kerala have been on a recovery phase ever since the BJP mismanaged the Sabarimala campaign and handed the initiative over to the Left.

The resurgence of the CPM post 2019 Lok Sabha debacle in Kerala was very much evident in the 2019 assembly bypolls where they surprisingly managed to share the honours with the Congress by winning three out of six seats.

But that hardly assures the party that they would do well in the 2021 assembly elections especially with the Hindu majority voters, which had predominantly been their vote bank, still not coming back to the party’s support in desired numbers after the Sabarimala episode.

Not surprisingly, the government is even contemplating letting the Supreme Court know that rituals should also be taken into account before making a final decision on women’s entry in Sabarimala as and when the review comes up for hearing, a complete U-turn from the earlier stand.

“For the Left in Kerala this is a lifeline. For a party that has been on a slippery slope for some time the CAA is certainly an opportunity to revive their political fortunes. But even in that they are aware that the major beneficiary of the minority vote bank will be the Congress party whom the Muslim voters naturally prefer. That is why this mad rush now led by the Chief Minister who himself moves a resolution, which is nothing but an attempt to play to the galleries. Sending letters to other states to follow their example, is all a part of it. It is a just perception game that the state government is doing now. Nothing more,’’ CR Neelakandan, State Convenor of Aam Admi Party told The Lede.

Talk of perception games, the state government seems to be perfecting it at the moment. This week the government issued front page advertisements on three national dailies which had the following caption under the header “We Are One, First” with a beaming picture of the Chief Minister:

“The State is the first to protect Constitutional Values. The Kerala Legislative Assembly became the first to pass a unanimous resolution against the discriminatory CAA.”

The Governor was soon to jump into the political battle and reacted by saying, “it is not morally right for a state to use public money to advertise political messages”.

Whatever the Governor said could be open for debate but the fact that an advertisement has been issued by the state on the exchequer’s money against a law enacted by the Parliament shows the desperation to which the Left government in Kerala wants to project itself as the ‘beacon’ for all anti CAA protests.

Even the Left thinkers in Kerala are miffed at this action of the Pinarayi Vijayan government. Many say that until the resolution, it was fine, since it went on to express the emotions of the state towards what is perceived an anti-people law. But to make use of that to kick off a PR campaign is playing politics at a completely different level altogether.

Joseph C Mathew is a Left political commentator and advisor to the previous Left Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan. He says such campaigns are not in line with the policies of the Left front led government.

“The state assembly passing a resolution was all fine and was well within their rights. But the state government going to Delhi and issuing an advertisement in the national dailies is nothing but a cheap political campaign. All the good work that you had done by passing this resolution has been spoilt by this one step. Whatever the Governor said in this context is completely endorsed by most of us. You have passed a resolution which has been brought to the notice of the union government. Above that if you do such a political campaign you are only giving a chance to your detractors to raise a question over your own intentions,’’ Joseph C Mathew told The Lede.

The intention is already being questioned by many others who feel that such desperate attempts on the part of the state government will only widen the already growing rift in the society along religious lines.

“This resolution is a result of pure appeasement politics, nothing else. The Kerala Assembly had done it before also aimed at the minority vote bank and both the Left and the Congress are party to it. But they do not see the danger involved in this. Why do you think both Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee are not doing the kind of protest they were expected to do? You will only end up consolidating a majoritarian section on the other side which will only further the divide,’’ warns KVS Haridas, senior journalist and right wing ideologue.

The Kerala state assembly being an arena for appeasement politics is neither new nor is it for the first time that a resolution has been passed to achieve such politically motivated ends.

In 2006 the assembly passed a unanimous resolution to press for the release of Abdul Nasser Madhani, a Kerala based Muslim preacher who had been an accused in the 1998 Coimbatore blast case that had targeted the then BJP President LK Advani.

The blast had killed 59 people in Coimbatore city. Madhani’s political party the PDP (not to be confused with the PDP in Kashmir) then had strong presence in a number of Muslim dominated pockets across Kerala and with the state poll bound in 2006, the then Congress led UDF government in the state thought such a resolution would help them immensely in the elections.

The Left too did not think otherwise and the resolution was passed unanimously.

“Just like the resolution seeking release of a terrorist like Madhani this one too is aimed at appeasing one community. In fact the state government has made it their mission to spread a lot of fear about CAA among the minorities in Kerala. We have started a door to door campaign to allay the fears of the people. But only when we talk to people on the ground we realise the fear the Left government’s machinery has been able to infuse among the people,’’ BJP state spokesperson MS Kumar told The Lede.

The resolution, the advertisement campaign and the ongoing tiff with the Governor are only the beginnings of what looks like a long drawn out political battle over CAA in Kerala.

The real duel starts when the union government starts its implementation of not just the CAA but also the National Population Register (NPR) and subsequently the National Registry of Citizens (NRC) for which the state will have to spare manpower and other resources.

The Kerala government has already filed a suit against the constitutionality of the CAA before the Supreme Court.

It will certainly be a tough time for both the state and the union governments to achieve their ends and it is beyond doubt that a legal quagmire awaits all the stakeholders in days to come.