The intolerance and undemocratic ways of India’s left-leaning parties and intellectuals were exposed this weekend when the constitutional head of a state was booed, heckled and physically confronted at a conference on Saturday.
The unprecedented incident happened during the opening of the 80th edition of the Indian History Congress (IHC) in Kannur which is regarded as a communist heartland.
The dignitary who faced the ire of the partisan gathering was Arif Mohammed Khan, above, the Governor of Kerala and Chancellor of Kannur University which hosted the event. He was invited to the Congress and insulted.
Historian Prof Irfan Habib and Communist MP KK Ragesh, who addressed the gathering before Khan, ignored history and launched into an angry tirade about the new citizenship law and internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir and Assam.
Habib and Ragesh used the IHC platform for nearly 100 minutes to attack the Union government’s policies. They probably thought the governor would silently bear their criticisms on the Union government since he was supposed to take a “neutral position” on issues.
The gathering consisting of historians, left-leaning politicians and university students cheered the two speakers.
However, they jeered Khan when he started speaking. Placards and slogans were raised to disrupt him.
Undeterred, Khan went ahead. Deviating from the prepared speech, he began rebutting the criticisms levelled against the citizenship law by the previous speakers.
While the governor was speaking, Prof Habib tried to physically
Khan was forced to cut short his speech as the protests grew louder.
When police arrested some of the protesters, communist party leaders intervened.
As Khan was leaving the government guest house, he was shown black flags by some protesters who were arrested but soon released.
The governor later asked Kannur University vice-chancellor Gopinath Ravindran to provide him the video of the entire inaugural session.
During his meeting with the governor at the guest house, Ravindran said protocols were violated at the Congress. For instance, Prof Habib was not included in the list of speakers.
Who then did ask Prof Habib to address the gathering? The long political speeches by Prof Habib and Ragesh were uncalled-for at a formal meeting like IHC.
The appearance of placards at a history congress is equally intriguing. The two political speeches and the vociferous protests during the governor’s speech appear to be stage-managed.
The governor was not given adequate police protection. Prof Habib pulled the shirt of the governor’s aide-de-camp before approaching the governor. The vice-chancellor blocked him and prevented what could have been a most embarrassing situation.
The vice-chancellor should have anticipated the protest since he was aware of the political leanings of the speakers.
Although some left-leaning politicians, historians and university students created the chaos to disrupt the governor’s speech, opposition parties in Kerala remained silent on them. Instead, they are now demanding the governor’s apology and resignation for acting like a “spokesman” of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is in charge of the home ministry, should have apologised to the governor for the security lapses at the Congress.
In interviews given to local media, Khan said he is the defender of the Constitution and not the spokesman of any political party.
He deviated from the prepared speech as he was constitutionally bound to defend the citizenship law after the previous speakers attacked it.
He said the law came into being after the Citizenship Amendment Bill was debated and passed by both Houses of Parliament and approved by the President.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was the fulfilment of a wish by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who were concerned about non-Muslim minorities suffering religious persecution in Pakistan after partition in 1947.
Political parties have the right to protest and criticise anyone, Khan said, adding that he is not upset by incident in Kannur.
The governor said he is willing to debate on CAA with any group.
Earlier, he had invited various groups of anti-CAA protesters for talks at his office or elsewhere. But only one group of clerics accepted his invitation, Khan said.
Why are critics of the citizenship law shying away from talks with the governor? Do they feel they will be exposed?