Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan has made deeply offensive remarks, describing those protesting against the new citizenship law as "dirty, stinking potholes" who were left behind in India after its partition.
The Governor's opprobrium at an event on 28th December has provoked severe criticism; he has defended his language. "How can they judge that I misquoted? They spoke for one and a half hours and I barely had spoken for a few minutes. Who are they to judge that I misquoted?"
The Governor was addressing a meeting of the Indian History Congress in Kerala's Kannur, when he expressed his support of the new rules which, critics say, provide for citizenship on the basis of religion and are skewed against Muslims. The government denies these allegations and states that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is designed to fast-track the naturalization of six minorities (Muslims are not among them) who have sought refuge in India after being persecuted in the Muslim-majority countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The Governor's comments in favour of the new rules were met with slogans by attendees. "You cannot shout me down... you have come with an agenda," the Governor shot back after slogans started at the back of the hall.
"It was for the likes of you that Maulana (Azad) said partition took away the dirt, but left behind dirty water in potholes... it is stinking, you are causing a foul smell. Maulana Azad made the remarks for the likes of you," he added, pointing to the protesters.
He said eminent historian Irfan Habib tried to physically cut short his speech by getting up to interrupt him. "Irfan Habib got up from his seat... maybe he wanted to attack me... There was barely 3-4 minutes when I started speaking... The shirt of my ADC was torn. Irfan Habib was stopped from reaching me," the Governor said.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is from the Left, which is stridently opposed to the new citizenship law, has said that he will unite with the opposition in his state to decide the course of action including new protests.
The BJP in Kerala says the protests against the Governor was planned. "What happened to the Governor is an insult, an insult to Kerala," said JR Padmakumar, a BJP spokesperson.
But a slew of leaders from other parties accuse him of a blatantly partisan stand, of unseemly comments and of compromising his office.