Kochi: His decades-long political acumen came to the fore as Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan led the ruling LDF to a thumping win over opposition UDF in the keenly fought April 6 assembly polls, bucking an over four-decade-old trend of power alternating between two fronts.
A combination of factors contributed to LDF's historic victory, including delivery of a string of populist measures like distribution of free foodgrains and provision kits to all people, better management of the COVID-19 situation by gearing up the public health care system, and enhanced and prompt payout of social security pensions.
Severe organisational weaknesses of the Congress and the BJP's foray into the traditional anti-Left support base also helped the LDF coast to victory comfortably, winning 87 of the total of 140 seats so far.
The final results are expected later.
A powerful administrator, Vijayan had rolled out a set of development and welfare measures to enable a spectacular comeback for LDF from its drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when it lost 19 out of the 20 seats.
The LDF also shed its hardline position on issues like the entry of women of menstruating age to the famous Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, regaining lost ground in the social spectrum.
Vijayan also convinced people that the LDF government was with them during crises by the manner in which it handled the devastating floods of 2018 and 2019 and the Nipah epidemic.
By actively pushing developmental and welfare-oriented policies, the Vijayan-led government also came out of the shadow cast by the gold smuggling case and scandals related to that.
After the COVID-19 pandemic struck the state last year, the LDF government seized on the state's extensive PDS network to provide free food kits to all and extended the programme even after the lockdown, winning the hearts of one and all.
The government also distributed the state pension to the elderly, providing them much-needed relief during the time of crisis.
In its cleverly crafted campaign, the LDF made full use of these widely-applauded measures, which turned out to be a huge relief to millions of families battered by the pandemic-induced economic crisis.
The back-to-back victories proved wrong those who predicted that the fortunes of the LDF and its 'captain' were doomed after the drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Sensing that the stand taken by his party-led government on the Sabarimala women's entry issue was the prime reason for its humiliating defeat in the LS polls, the LDF government did a "U" turn on the matter during the Assembly elections.
At the peak of the poll campaign, Vijayan made it clear that the sentiments of the believers would be respected while taking any decision on the customs of the ancient hill shrine.
The opposition Congress and the BJPhad unleashed a campaign against the LDF government's alleged high-handedness in implementing the Supreme Court verdict, allowing entry of women of all age groups into the Sabarimala temple.
On April 6, the day of elections, Vijayan, after casting his vote at his home constituency Dharmadam, said Lord Ayyappa and all other 'devas' are with the LDF.
The LDF, which faced a grave crisis after the Lok Sabha polls, regained the confidence of the people following its resounding victory in the civic polls in December.
The CPI(M)-led front's victory in most district panchayats, block panchayats, grama panchayats and corporations by huge margins laid the foundation for its campaign for the Assembly polls.
The victory in the civic polls came as a shot in the arm for Vijayan, particularly at a time when he had been under the tenacious attack of the Opposition for his office's alleged involvement in the gold smuggling scam.
An astute politician with a long experience of leading the party, he firmed up the LDFs social base before heading to the polls by striking a deal with Kerala Congress (M), led by Jose K Mani, to attract Christian voters in central Kerala, who used to back the Congress-led UDF in most previous polls.
Disregarding protests by the Indian Union Muslim League, the government also took the bold decision of giving 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections in jobs and education, regardless of caste status.
This decision helped Vijayan attract the votes of upper-caste Hindus, who were upset with him over the Sabarimala issue, and a significant section of Syrian Christians, a forward class in the state.
Besides fielding fresh faces in the polls, the LDF manifesto promising 'pension' for homemakers, creation of 40 lakh jobs for the youth, and 15,000 startups over the next five years also helped the LDF win the support of the people.
It has also assured raising the social security pension to various categories from the present Rs 1,600 to Rs 2,500 in phases and pledged to increase farmers' income by 50 percent.