The turn of the strongman

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:10 pm IST

Published - May 23, 2016 02:34 am IST

The political drama that was expected after the LDF victory, as a result of the rivalry between the two stalwarts of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), former Chief Minister >V.S. Achuthanandan and former State secretary >Pinarayi Vijayan , did not materialise. The transition to power was a smooth affair with Mr. Vijayan chosen as the CPI(M)’s legislature party leader and Mr. Achuthanandan stepping aside graciously, albeit after some gentle persuasion from the national leadership of the party. Mr. Achuthanandan was the face of the Left Democratic Front’s campaign, drawing massive crowds to his meetings as he took on the Congress on issues such as poor governance and corruption. But old age and ill-health, as well as political exigencies, necessitated the relinquishing of his claim on the chief ministership. It is Mr. Vijayan, the quintessential organisation strongman, who enjoys the support in all tiers of the party. Having risen through the CPI(M) ranks in north Kerala’s Kannur district, a hotbed of political violence between the Communist and Sangh Parivar cadres, he lacks the geniality and mass appeal of Mr. Achuthanandan. But during his years as the State secretary, Mr. Vijayan was the backbone of the party, holding the organisation together within a disciplinary framework that gave no scope for either internal dissent or external threats. Other than his public spat with Mr. Achuthanandan, for which both were suspended from the Polit Bureau, Mr. Vijayan is not known for being out of step with the party line.

The LDF did not return to power on a wave of popularity. Its victory was facilitated, and in no small measure, by the ineptness of the United Democratic Front, the surge in the vote share of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its role as a keen watchdog during its years in opposition. Given his age, Mr. Achuthanandan could not be as active as the leader of the opposition over the last five years as he was in 2001-06. Given the rise of the BJP in Kerala’s politics, Mr. Vijayan, given his political acumen, may well be the right person at the helm for the CPI(M). But clearly, it is his skills as an administrator that will be under test in the next five years. In his earlier stint in government, as the Minister for Power and Cooperation in the E.K. Nayanar government for two years from 1996, Mr. Vijayan faced corruption charges, but was subsequently cleared by a special court. Despite being a hard-nosed communist, the new Chief Minister of Kerala is not averse to big ticket investment, something the State badly needs. Indeed, in this he is more forward-looking than Mr. Achuthanandan, who is schooled and set in the old ways as an administrator. Kerala needs a more dynamic Left-leaning government, one that harmoniously accommodates both industrial growth and social welfare. Retaining power in Kerala is more easy than regaining it. Mr. Vijayan would do well to remember this as he readies to govern this politically conscious State.

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