His Stalin-like gaze unnerves opponents. His capacity to say unpleasant things upfront corners top officials and party colleagues into obedience. His nuanced North Kerala twang and the barbed, folksy phrases he uses to answer reporters leaves uncomfortable questions unasked at press conferences.
One hundred days after he took over as Kerala’s Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan has more than stood up to his image of a strong-willed, no-nonsense leader. The CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front Government came to power promising to fix the governance system (‘LDF will come to power, everything will be fixed,’ was the campaign catch phrase). This week, a government ad commemorating the 100 days, claimed: “Now we have a government.”
The claim is not far off the mark. In the past 100 days, Pinarayi’s government has not achieved anything great in terms of administrative measures or development projects. But, it could instil in the people’s mind a sense that they are being governed, and that a fair system of governance will be put in place soon. This is partly owing to the five tortuous, scandal-ridden years under Oommen Chandy that preceded.Team in sync
The benefit of comparison apart, the Pinarayi cabinet gives the impression of a cohesive team that fully follows the leader’s instructions. Pinarayi is the only Chief Minister in the Cabinet, unlike Chandy’s cacophonous ministry, in which each minister was half-a-Chief Minister.
Criticising Pinarayi’s ‘autocratic style’ of functioning, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala compared his ministers to O Panneerselvam, who would fill in for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa every time she had to quit office. The hint is that Pinarayi is a Jayalalithaa in the making as both party and the government are under his control.
One step that has shone in 100 days of his regime is the appointment of Jacob Thomas, an upright senior IPS officer, as the head of the influential Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau. Thomas has been given vast freedom to act, and also sufficient investigators for probes to be undertaken. The appointment is seen as the launch of Pinarayi’s war on corruption.A strongman
No other Kerala Chief Minister in recent times has looked so politically invincible just 100 days into power as Pinarayi Vijayan has. The LDF has a decent majority in the Assembly and hence even if a couple of junior partners leave the coalition (which looks unlikely now), it will not the rock the government.
The Opposition, the Congress-led United Democratic Front, is a fractured coalition. Once its third-largest party, the Kerala Congress (Mani) recently left the UDF after more than three decades of co-habitation with the Congress. At least two small parties may soon follow suit. And the Congress, busy with infighting, appears unable to scare the LDF any time soon.
Pinarayi is invincible within the CPI(M), too. By virtue of having been State Secretary for 16 long years until just seven months ago, every layer of the party structure is loyal to him. Current secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan owes his position to Pinarayi.Achuthanandan silenced
Pinarayi’s biggest rival in the party, VS Achuthanandan, has effectively been silenced.
By allowing the controversy over Achuthanandan’s bargain for a Cabinet-level position to drag on for two months, Pinarayi added to eroding the former’s politico-moral high ground in the public mind. Even the CPI(M) Politburo is now not in a position to dictate terms to Pinarayi.
In a move to build bridges with the Centre, Pinarayi had, as soon as he had taken over, paid a courtesy call to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as other senior Central Ministers. All these have helped cement Pinarayi’s position as Chief Minister and build his image as a loh purush in just 100 days.
But, he will be judged, 1,700-plus days from now, by how he uses this to address Kerala’s three major issues — the State’s economy, corruption and communalisation.