Pinarayi Vijayan will sorely miss the experienced hands that he had in his first ministry, as Kerala continues to report high numbers of Covid cases
KK Shailaja, or Shailaja Teacher as she is popularly known, the Health Minister in the first Pinarayi Vijayan Government in Kerala, has been constantly in the news for the past five years. First for how the state and the Health Department handled the Nipah virus outbreak. And, from early 2020 it was for the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. She was feted by all concerned, including international media outlets, and the Kerala model was touted as the one that had to be emulated.
But on Tuesday when the list of ministers to be sworn in along with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was announced, her name was excluded, much to the shock of all concerned. She had won handsomely by a margin of nearly 61,000 votes after polling about 62 percent of the votes cast from the Mattannur constituency in the Kannur district and it was a given that she would continue to be the Health Minister, if not a more important post. However, that was not to be.
The ostensible reason for dropping Shailaja and other ministers was that the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the main party in the Left Democratic Front (LDF), was only following its policy of rotating responsibility, with the exception of the Chief Minister, and in the process blooding fresh face. Shailaja has been named as the party’s whip in the assembly. However, there are not many who are prepared to buy this argument and say this is Pinarayi Vijayan stamping his authority both in government and on the party. With almost all the ministers being new and inexperienced, it will be Vijayan’s writ that will run. Let there be no doubt about that.
The new ministers include PA Muhammad Riyas, Democratic Youth Federation of India President and Vijayan’s son-in-law, and R Bindu, former Thrissur Mayor and wife of A Vijayaraghavan, CPI(M) acting State Secretary. Even before the elections, the CPI(M) denied seats to a few senior ministers on the grounds that they had been MLAs for two consecutive terms.
Over the last five years, Pinarayi Vijayan has cemented his position within the party and in the state and ensured that he called the shots. He was able to rope in smaller parties before the local body elections in late 2020 ensuring that the Left Front swept the polls. He adopted the same model for the Assembly elections and created a record by retaining power in a State where after each election the party in power changes. It was a huge victory for Vijayan, especially after the LDF was trounced in the 2019 Parliament elections.
Vijayan has built for himself an image of a decisive leader and a no-nonsense chief minister, weathered many a storm, including the gold smuggling case in which bureaucrats from his office were arrested. The Pinarayi Vijayan Government hired a professional public relations agency to run a social media campaign on its achievements. The Left Front has thousands of volunteers who are active on social media and waste no opportunity to tom-tom the government’s achievements. These volunteers and a large number of Left intellectuals are constantly on the ball, articulating and hammering away the point that no one but Pinarayi Vijayan could have handled the various crises that the State faced. The Liberals and Progressives unabashedly applaud everything that Pinayari Vijayan does.
It is accepted that it is a chief minister’s prerogative to have a cabinet of his or her choice, but in the new cabinet, there is no one who can match Pinarayi Vijayan in stature or seniority, which makes it all the more difficult for them to either say ‘no’ to him or hold a mirror to him. If the criticism against the Narendra Modi Government at the Centre is that the Prime Minister has surrounded himself mostly with lightweight ministers, the same will now hold true for Pinarayi Vijayan. It is indeed ironic that the CPM leadership criticises Modi for doing that, but is willing to condone Vijayan for the same. Or, maybe their writ does not run in Kerala, which is the only state where they are in power in the country.
Pinarayi Vijayan will sorely miss the experienced hands that he had in his first ministry, as Kerala continues to report high numbers of Covid cases. The LDF managed to retain power by some deft politics and by handing out doles to all ration cardholders in the form of kits consisting of essential grocery items, but that cannot continue for long. As it is, the State’s finances are in a mess, remittances from Malayalis living abroad have fallen and public debt is soaring. It is one thing to focus on welfare and it takes an entirely different mindset to encourage enterprise, which is what will lead to wealth creation and generate jobs. The Chief Minister will have his hands full over the next five years. There is no question of opposition to him from within his party and the Congress is too demoralised and rudderless to be an effective opposition. Vijayan has cultivated the image of a strong man, but his biggest test will be in delivering results.
— N Ramakrishnan is a Chennai-based freelance journalist with over three decades of experience. The views expressed are personal
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)