CM post ends Pinarayi's long wait but Lavlin case can still spoil party

The SNC Lavalin corruption case hanging over his head and a dour demeanour he put up in the public were the major hurdles that kept Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan from parliamentary politics for nearly two decades.

He cleared the first hurdle in November 2013 when a CBI court accepted his discharge petition in the case pertaining to a loss of Rs 374.50 crore the state exchequer suffered from a deal he initiated with Canadian company SNC Lavalin for the renovation of three hydro-electric plants in violation of norms during his term as electricity minister from 1996 to 1998.

He sought to cement his position for the top post by going through an image makeover before the election. The 72-year-old leader changed his tough body language and tried to sport a smile whenever he appeared in television and interacted with people. He also tried to interact with the people by opening accounts on Facebook and other social media forums.

However, the people were not impressed. They gave him a poor ranking in the pre-poll opinion polls. Most of the surveys placed him below 12 points in popularity among the major contenders for the chief minister. Ninety-two-year-old V S Achuthanandan topped the chart in popularity with 35 points. Even solar scam-tainted Chief Minister Oommen Chandy fared better than Vijayan with a ranking of 34.

Pinarayi Vijayan. Image courtesy: Twitter/@vijayanpinarayi

Pinarayi Vijayan. Image courtesy: Twitter/@vijayanpinarayi

This did not matter for the CPI(M) central leadership, which wanted a younger and tougher leader to steer the government and prevent the movement from collapsing at a time when it is facing its biggest crisis in its other bastion West Bengal.

Vijayan’s colleagues in Kerala feel that he is the most suitable leader to become the chief minister as he has already proved his administrative capability as power minister and his organisational abilities by steering the party as state secretary from 1998 to 2015.

Even his critics acknowledge the contributions he made for enhancing the power supply during the three years he handled the electricity portfolio. They see Vijayan as a pro-development leader, who is ready to shake hands with corporates whom the party had alienated with its anti-capitalist ideology for the development of the state.

Many mega projects like a high-speed rail corridor from north to south and the Kochi-Palakkad industrial corridor included in the CPI(M) manifesto are seen as an example of his development vision. Most of these projects were opposed by Achuthanandan during his term as chief minister from 2006 to 2011.

Born on 21 March 1944 in a poor family at Pinarayi in the northern district of Kannur, Vijayan had worked as a handloom weaver before joining politics. He left the job after a year and joined for pre–university course in the Government Brennen College, Thalassery. Subsequently, he completed his degree course from the same college.

The student union activities at the college drew Vijayan into the Communist movement. He started his association with the party by joining the Kerala Student's Federation (KSF), which is now the Students Federation of India (SFI). Vijayan who served as the president and secretary of the body later became the president of Kerala State Youth Federation (KSYF), a precursor of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI).

During the period, when communists in Kerala were organising the political activities from different hide-outs, Vijayan was imprisoned for one-and-a-half years. He was also arrested during the Emergency and tortured by the police.

Vijayan was noted after he became the Kannur district secretary of the CPM following the expulsion of late MV Raghavan over his deviation from party lines in aligning with communal parties. Within three years, he became a member of the state secretariat.

He was elected to the Assembly in 1970, 1977 and 1991 from Koothuparamba and in 1996 from Payyannur. Vijayan acquired the stature of a state-level leader after he was appointed as the state secretary of the CPM in 1998 following the death of the then secretary Chadayan Govindan.

He used the 17 years he headed the party to cultivate a group of loyalists. He built up his base in the party by eliminating rivals one by one and adding friends from the rival group headed by Achuthanandan, who in fact had promoted him as the state secretary.

Those who showed unwavering support to Achuthanandan were removed from party positions and his loyalists were packed in both the state secretariat and state committee by the time he relinquished the post in favour of his friend Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. This has come in good stead now.

Pinarayi, who perceived Achuthanandan as his rival, had tried to clip his wings by using the brute majority he enjoyed in the state forums. The state committee prior to the last party conference at Alappuzha in February last year even termed Achuthanandan as a leader with anti-party mentality. Vijayan had recalled the state committee resolution even during the present election campaign.

Vijayan’s opponents consider him as a bundle of contradictions. This is because of the contradictory positions he has taken on several occasions. Though he was in the forefront in opposing the self-financing colleges when A K Antony opened up the professional education to the private sector in 2002, he sent his daughter to a self-financing college and his son to a foreign university for higher education.

A palatial house he built in Kannur in early 2010 also remains as an example of his double-speak. His opponents describe him as a proletarian leader with a liking for capitalist lifestyle.

Vijayan’s elevation as chief minister can be embarrassing for the party if the High Court orders re-trial of the SNC Lavlin case. The chances cannot be ruled out as the court had observed that the CBI court’s decision to discharge Vijayan and other accused in the case without trial was legally untenable.

The court has resumed hearing in a pre-election petition filed by the UDF government for speedy disposal of the revision petitions filed by the CBI and others against Vijayan’s acquittal in the case. If the court allows the CBI plea for trial Vijayan may find the going tough.

Updated Date: May 20, 2016 18:43 PM

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