Pinarayi Set to Rewrite Kerala Election History After Four Decades
The 76-year-old CPI(M) strongman from Kerala’s northern state Kannur, was the face of LDF this election.
Local and national level exit polls indicate a return to power for the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) with slender margins in Kerala. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has reason to believe that he can beat the four-decade-long poll history of the state, during which no incumbent has won a second consecutive term in the Legislative Assembly.
The 76-year-old CPI(M) strongman from Kerala’s northern state Kannur, was the face of LDF this election, in a state where electoral power usually alternates between two key political forces—the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
Though the Home Department under Vijayan had come under a lot of criticism for its alleged police excesses, apart from oblique corruption charges, the Chief Minister was able to effectively check anti-incumbency sentiments through his deft handling of crises including two successive floods, the Nipah virus outbreak and finally the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moreover, some electoral equations too seem to have come to Pinarayi’s rescue this year.
Christian Votes, Welfare, Cyber Army
Exit polls indicate that Vijayan was able to draw the traditional Christian votes on a large scale towards the LDF. His decision to form an alliance with Kerala Congress (Mani Group), a regional party that has strong roots among Roman Catholics, seems to have helped.
Vijayan was also able to ensure a high decibel campaign across the state highlighting LDF’s welfare measures—mainly free food-kits and free ration distributed during the COVID-19 crisis, and infrastructure development initiatives the state had witnessed in the last five years.
CPI(M) politburo member MA Baby terms Vijayan as a leader who transforms crisis situations into opportunities. According to Baby, the most significant achievement of Vijayan during the pandemic-induced crisis was not letting people go to bed hungry.
The free food-kit distribution has paid dividends along with other welfare measures, he said. He was also able to neutralise the adverse impact of the ongoing investigations by different Central agencies including Enforcement Directorate, National Investigations Agency and Customs into the various alleged scams involving different left leaders and their family members. Vijayan succeeded in projecting these investigations as the BJP-led Central government's attempts to destabilise the LDF government.
While Vijayan is inching towards a second term, his detractors in and outside LDF prefer to attribute the victory to a well-oiled cyber army of CPI(M) supporters who have been singing his praises and circulating them effectively on social media platforms.
State Leader to National Leader?
In the state, CPI(M)’s electioneering was primarily a Vijayan show with other prominent state leaders failing to find their own space in the campaigning. In the last five years, Vijayan's stamp was everywhere in governance, and his control over other ministers is now almost complete.
However, once known for his Stalinist style of functioning within the party hierarchy, a positive electoral outcome would likely make Vijayan indispensable even to the national leadership of CPI(M), even though the party’s general secretary, Sitaram Yechury disagrees with many of his political stands and approaches.
If allowed to govern for another term, there are apprehensions that Vijayan and his office would govern without taking even the CPI(M) leadership into confidence on crucial policy matters.
Will Vijayan’s Cult Harm CPI(M)?
"In the last five years, Kerala's CPI(M) unit has witnessed a strange phenomenon in which organisational and administrative powers are getting consolidated in one individual. Inside the party and government, Vijayan had occupied an authoritarian position that seldom tolerated any kind of criticism and scrutiny. So, you can imagine the next five years under his rule. He would in all likelihood turn more authoritarian," rues Dr. Azad, a retired college professor and former CPI(M) supporter.
CP John, a former CPI(M) leader who later joined the Congress added, “So far, the CPI(M) has had no tradition of branding or projecting an individual as its face. It was always against personality cult even during elections. In the case of Vijayan, he remained a strong critic of cult worship for long. Now he will have to pay a heavy price ideologically and politically for allowing cult worshipping for short term gains”.
However, Vijayan supporters say his public image as a harsh and rigid politician had undergone a massive change in the last five years of governance. For them, he is an exemplary crisis management expert who helped the party and its government survive many severe challenges.
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