Government vs governor fight in Tamil Nadu turns nasty

It raises questions about constitutional propriety

PTI01_09_2023_000131B Fight to finish: DMK MLAs raise slogans against Governor R.N. Ravi in the presence of Chief Minister M.K. Stalin during his customary address at the start of the new session of the assembly | PTI

A day after Governor R.N. Ravi flew to Delhi for a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin shot off a letter to President Droupadi Murmu, complaining that the governor has “violated his oath” and has “proved to be unfit” to continue. Ravi, who left for a one-day visit on July 7, was asked to extend his stay. Meanwhile, the tussle between the governor and the government continues unabated.

From the time he took over as governor on September 18, 2021, Ravi has had an uneasy relationship with the DMK government led by Stalin. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Stalin said the governor was trying to damage Tamil Nadu. “He does not like Tamil Nadu developing and remaining peaceful,” said Stalin. “Abolishing the post of governor is the only solution.” Unsurprisingly, abolition of the post has been a longstanding demand of the DMK.

The first major disagreement between Stalin and Ravi came soon after the governor took charge. In September 2021, the Tamil Nadu assembly passed a bill for abolishing the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), the all-India pre-medical entrance test. Tamil Nadu has always been against the national test, arguing that a common entrance test would harm the prospects of state board students. Ravi kept the bill pending for nearly five months and returned it without signing in February 2022. The assembly unanimously readopted the bill and sent it back to the governor. A few month's later, the governor sent it to the Union home ministry for the president's approval, which led to the accusation that he was stalling the process.

And then came the issue of the National Education Policy (NEP). While the state government opposed the NEP, Ravi batted for it. He even called a meeting of vice chancellors in the state and asked them to follow the new policy. Later, addressing a seminar titled 'Ek Bharat Shreshta Bharat' at the Raj Bhavan for students and faculty of various universities, he said that the word 'Dravidam' referred not only to Tamil Nadu, but also to other southern states. It did not go down well with the DMK.

Things came to a head early this year when Ravi skipped portions of the governor’s customary address at the start of the new session of the state assembly. Stalin introduced a resolution condemning the governor's conduct, which was unanimously adopted by the assembly, and Ravi walked out in a huff.

The next controversy erupted after Ravi's remark that 'Tamizhagam' would be more appropriate than Tamil Nadu as the state's name, leading to strong reactions from political parties across the state. Ravi later clarified that he made the comments while speaking about the historical and cultural connect between Kashi and Tamil Nadu and that it was erroneous to say that he had suggested a name change for the state.

Ravi stirred yet another controversy while commenting on the Chidambaram Natarajar temple issue. Last year, the Stalin government had registered cases under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act against a few Dikshitars—an exclusive Saivaite clan of priests who control the famous Natarajar temple—allegedly for having organised the marriage of four minor girls. Ravi said two minors were forced to undergo the infamous 'two-finger' virginity test by the police and accused the government of targeting the Dikshitars. The government, however, refuted the charges.

The tussle reached a critical point when Minister V. Senthil Balaji was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate and was later admitted to a private hospital for cardiac surgery. While Stalin retained Balaji in his cabinet as a minister without portfolio, Ravi dismissed Balaji. But he was forced to backtrack within hours, apparently after Shah intervened.

On July 5, Law minister S. Regupathy sought the governor’s sanction to prosecute former AIADMK ministers B.V. Ramanaa, C. Vijayabaskar, M.R. Vijayabhaskar and K.C. Veeramani on corruption charges. Ravi refused, and listed his reasons for the refusal in a letter dated July 6. He said the case against Ramanaa and C. Vijayabaskar, which was investigated by the CBI, was under “legal examination”. About the case against Veeramani, the governor said the government was yet to submit a duly authenticated copy of the investigation report. In the case of M.R. Vijayabhaskar, he said the Raj Bhavan did not receive any request. A day later, an acknowledgement signed by the governor’s office for receiving the letters was leaked to the media.

The feud between the government and the governor has escalated to such a level that the chief minister took the extreme step of writing to the president for Ravi's removal. “Sitting in the state capital and looking for an opportunity to overthrow the state government, the governor can only be considered as an agent of the Union and such action of the governor will destroy our federal philosophy and the basic principles of Indian democracy,” wrote Stalin in his letter. “The governor took the oath under Article 159 to protect the Constitution and the law, and dedicate himself to the service and welfare of the people of Tamil Nadu. It is clear that Ravi had transgressed that and incited communal hatred and is a threat to peace in the state.”