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Left Front in Kerala: assessing a month of Pinarayi's rule

Anand Kochukudy | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

First the bad news

  • CM Pinarayi\'s relationship with the media has been severely criticised
  • Thalassey incident involving 2 Dalit sisters also has put him on the defensive

Now the good news

  • The breakthrough in the Jisha rape and murder case
  • Individual ministries are performing well

More in the story

  • Problems with Pinarayi\'s reign so far
  • What is the Opposition saying?

It has been more than five weeks since Pinarayi Vijayan has taken over as the chief minister of Kerala.

Though this relatively short period has been nothing short of eventful for the new government, there have been positive and negative outcomes for the citizenry.

While the initial euphoria and goodwill seems to have waned in the light of a couple of events that left a bitter aftertaste, the honeymoon period of this government is far from over.

Pinarayi, known as a no-nonsense leader and a strict disciplinarian as the party secretary for 17 years, had an image makeover overnight when he suddenly appeared less averse to smile. He had long been known as the comrade who didn't smile.

The media by and large didn't play up the initial couple of U-turns by the chief minister and his party soon after taking charge. First on the Mullaperiyar Dam issue followed by the Hydro Electric power project at Athirappilly, though there were feeble protests from some of their political opponents.

The announcement of Industries Minister EP Jayarajan welcoming private capital and going on to say"the government would not put any curbs on multinational monopolies if they are beneficial to the state" was welcomed by everyone in general despite many being taken aback by the sudden shift in position from the Left to the Right.

Controversies ahead

Controversies involving Pinarayi began with the issue involving the Kerala sports council and athlete Anju Bobby George (PTI)

But the controversies were to follow. And the chief minister has been at the centre of many of these. It began with the issue involving the Kerala sports council and athlete Anju Bobby George.

Though that died down soon, Pinarayi Vijayan's aversion to facing up to the media was noted. The CM's hide and seek with the media didn't end there.

The weekly briefing after the Cabinet meetings was scrapped after the CM's very first interaction with the media. It was a routine that his predecessors Oommen Chandy and VS Achuthananthan had religiously followed.

The meetings also gave the media a chance to put forth their questions and to gauge the government's mind on crucial matters. But Pinarayi made it clear that he wouldn't continue the practice.

A source close to the party confirmed that this was to avoid getting into needless controversies as Pinarayi Vijayan has never felt at home during his interactions with the media.

The editor of a Malayalam daily opined that Pinarayi is not fully sure about his temperament and fears a relapse of losing his temper on being asked tough questions as he was prone to on occasion earlier.

Another insider pointed out that this was done on the advice of his media adviser John Brittas, who is also the MD of the CPM promoted Kairali TV.

Pinarayi's political opponents did not lose time in making comparisons with Narendra Modi's approach to the media.

No space for seniors

How VS Achuthananthan would be accommodated in the new setup is another challenge for the CM.

The communist party, which tapped into the popularity of the nonagenarian leader, who travelled the length and breadth of the state asking for votes, has sidelined the veteran after the impressive electoral victory.

While everyone knew that Pinarayi would eclipse VS to be the chief minister, despite the party choosing to keep it open-ended at the campaign stage, nobody envisaged VS going down without a fight.

But while VS seemed resigned to the outcome of Pinarayi's ascension after being conveyed the party's decision soon after the results, the fact that he has been made to wait so long without being offered a position befitting his status, projects Pinarayi and his party apparatchiks in poor light.

VS recently moved into a small rented house in Thiruvananthapuram from the official bungalow of the Leader of the Opposition.

All talk no action?

Though Pinarayi made all the right noises in the beginning with idealistic speeches and promised that everything would be done in accordance with law, mass political transfers of government employees soon afterwards caused massive outrage.

And despite claims to transparency, the Pinarayi Vijayan government is yet to react to the order of the State Information Commission to upload cabinet decisions of the government within 48 hours of taking them.

Adding trouble

On 17 June two Dalit sisters Akhila and Anjana, aged 30 and 25, were booked under non-bailable sections and sent to prison on the charges of attacking a CPM party worker and damaging the party office (PTI)

What has actually made it worse for Pinarayi was the Thalassey incident on 17 June when two Dalit sisters were booked under non-bailable charges and sent to prison for allegedly attacking a CPM party worker and damaging the party office.

It happened in Pinarayi's own district of Kannur and in the 'party village' of Kuttimakkool. Some places in North Kerala, where only the CPM's writ runs, are otherwise infamously referred to as party villages.

The Dalit Sisters, Akhila and Anjana, aged 30 and 25, happened to be the daughters of a Congress worker who dared to contest the local body elections against former Kannur District Panchayat President and CPM leader Karayi Rajan.

Rajan is one of the accused in the murder of Muhammed Faizal and had to resign earlier this year as his petition challenging the ban on his entry in Kannur district was turned down by the Kerala High Court.

Akhila's sixteen-month-old daughter also spent a night in prison and this was followed by Anjana's attempt to commit suicide after she felt humiliated by the Thalassery CPM MLA when she appeared on a TV channel.

The CM, who also holds the Home portfolio, refused to answer questions put forth to him by the media and instead suggested they ask the police, which did not go down well with the media.

Later, as Pinarayi finally chose to speak on the matter, he ended up complicating it further with insensitive comments that actually would have befitted a party secretary rather than a chief minister. The CPM's doublespeak on Dalit issues also came to the fore here.

Some hope?

Despite these hiccups, there have been promising developments with regard to the education, agriculture and finance ministries.

The representatives of self-financing colleges, who usually flexed their muscles backed by their community leaders during the UDF rule, had to give in this time around.

Finance Minister Thomas Issac has committed to putting an end to the fiscal profligacy of the UDF and shoring up revenues and recently brought out a White Paper.

The Agriculture Minister has come out strongly against the real estate mafia.

The nabbing of the culprit in the Jisha rape and murder case must also come as a relief for the Pinarayi government.

What will be interesting in the days to come is how Pinarayi Vijayan steers the ship in balancing growth and welfare programmes while simultaneously keeping a check on corruption in a state where the people have massive expectations from the new dispensation.

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First published: 7 July 2016, 5:18 IST