Bhagat Singh Koshiyari in Maharashtra or Arif Muhammed Khan in Kerala

Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi’s overreach seems to be part of a pattern featuring BJP-appointed governors across states — Bhagat Singh Koshiyari in Maharashtra or Arif Muhammed Khan in Kerala, for instance — who are constantly locked in confrontation with non-BJP governments. Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi’s decision to omit key parts of the governor’s address to the assembly and to leave the House when the chief minister objected to the deviation from the printed text, casts unflattering light on his high office. The address, prepared by the government for the start of a new session of the House, is its statement of intent. Convention deems that the governor read it out in full.

Governor Ravi chose to skip portions that referred to Tamil leaders including Periyar E V Ramasamy, former chief ministers, K Kamaraj of the Congress and C N Annadurai and M Karunanidhi of the DMK, besides B R Ambedkar. He also left out mentions of the Dravidian model of governance and the state government’s commitment to maintain communal harmony.

None of these names or references can be described as controversial, unconstitutional or patently false. It is unclear why Governor Ravi found them objectionable. Governor Ravi and the Tamil Nadu government have had a fraught relationship since his appointment in September 2021. The governor has openly disagreed with the state government on several policy issues. He refused to endorse the government’s opposition to NEET and has been sitting on more than a dozen bills passed by the assembly, inviting allegations by the ruling DMK and its allies, Congress and communist parties, of acting at the behest of the Centre. His remark at a function in Raj Bhavan earlier this week that

Tamizhagam is a more appropriate name for the state than Tamil Nadu was criticised by the DMK, which accused him of interfering in state politics. The implication of Ravi’s suggestion was unsubtle – that the name Tamil Nadu has a ring of separate-ness – and this was bound to attract controversy given the political history of DMK. The DMK, which advocated linguistic nationalism, had got the state of Madras renamed as Tamil Nadu in 1969. Even the AIADMK, perceived to be close to the BJP, criticised the governor because Ravi had crossed a political lakshman rekha by questioning a foundational idea of the Dravidian Movement. Tamil subnationalism is at peace with Indian nationalism today.

Ravi’s expression of discomfort with the ideological roots of the Dravidian Movement clearly went beyond the remit of his office. Unfortunately, his overreach seems to be part of a pattern featuring BJP-appointed governors across states — Bhagat Singh Koshiyari in Maharashtra or Arif Muhammed Khan in Kerala, for instance — who are constantly locked in confrontation with non-BJP governments. The Union government bears no direct responsibility for the actions of the governor appointed by it. But the current developments may end up strengthening anti-Centre sentiments in Tamil Nadu, ironically at a time when the Prime Minister and his party have been trying to reach out to the state, arguably in a bid to assuage anxieties about the BJP’s Hindi-Hindutva push.

PM Modi inaugurated a month-long Kashi Tamil Sangamam in his constituency in November last year, essentially an attempt to build on the Hindu traditions that the north and south share with Varanasi at the centre. The programme involved people-to-people interactions as well as cultural initiatives placing Tamil culture and traditions in a broader pan-Indian canvas. Ravi’s conduct hurts his constitutional office. It also strikes a discordant note in the backdrop of the BJP’s efforts to expand its political footprint in Tamil Nadu.

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