Captain Vijayan

In second term, he must build on promise of first, in times of pandemic and economic distress.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala has made history by retaining office with an enhanced margin — the only time a ruling alliance in the state won consecutive elections after completing its term was in 1977. The LDF sought votes in the name of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and hence much of the credit for the unprecedented victory should go to him. The success in Kerala must come as a relief to the CPM, which has been wiped out in West Bengal, despite putting together a third front in alliance with the Congress and the newly formed Muslim outfit, Indian Secular Front.

Vijayan’s success owes to his transformation from being a party apparatchik to a ruler with formidable managerial skills, especially in times of crisis, after being elected CM in 2016. In the last five years, Kerala has had to face devastating floods, cyclones and epidemics. As CM, Vijayan rose to the occasion and became an efficient crisis manager, ensuring that the administrative machinery delivered on relief, rescue and welfare. His presence on television since the outbreak of COVID, where he would, like a no-nonsense patriarch, provide data on infections, list dos and don’ts, and assure ameliorative action and welfare, was comforting to the lakhs of people whose health and livelihood had been affected by the pandemic. His ministerial colleagues and staff delivered the promised welfare, including food kits to families and enhanced pensions on time. The past five years have also witnessed large-scale capital investment in education, health and public works. In short, when the LDF sought votes for Vijayan’s record in developing Kerala, it had evidence to back its claim and the record was good enough to fob off the numerous scandals that threatened to taint the government. Vijayan also did some smart politics by luring away UDF constituents to expand the Left’s social base in regions and among communities where it lacked heft. This feel for realpolitik has allowed him not just to dominate the government but also gain total control of the CPM.

The challenge now for Vijayan is to build on the promise of the first term and find resources to fund the development and welfare agenda in this time of distress. As the only CPM CM, he will also be expected to be its national face and shore up the fast depleting Left space in the country.

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