Just about a month remains for the Left government in Kerala to complete a year in power. But already the wheels of governance seem to be coming off as one issue after the other rocks the state.It is not corruption but the disconnect the government has developed with the common man that is hurting the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) the most.
The inability to solve small issues before they become big enough to give fodder to Opposition parties is reflective of the misrule and lack of governance that has taken over this government.
And at the centre of this storm is Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister who had come to power, riding on a huge mandate by the people. Perhaps the expectations were bigger.
The seeming apathy of the chief minister towards some of the public agitations that took place in the state in the last few months is what has left the majority of political analysts in Kerala scratching their head.
The hunger strike by Jishnu Prannoy’s mother and sister that grabbed headlines recently had to end with the intervention of the party General Secretary Sitaram Yechury. Yechury’s intervention is not only a body blow to the self respect of a man like Vijayan who has built his entire political career around a much hallowed ‘iron man status’ in the party, but also an ominous sign that the central leadership of the party is terribly vexed at the events in Kerala. It was a similar malaise, entrenched in arrogance which took the party down in West Bengal a decade ago.
Though the central leadership does not have the gumption to speak up against Vijayan, who still holds sway within the party in Kerala, it certainly hopes to rein him in to prevent the party in Kerala going the Bengal way.
“Normally, the central leadership never intervenes in such trivial matters of governance. It actually points to the concern the CPM leadership has about sustenance of the whole political formation in Kerala. Surely the leadership realises the gravity of the disconnect that has set in," said C Gouridasan, Bureau Chief of The Hindu who has been covering the Left for decades now.
No doubt the police action on Mahija (Jishnu’s mother) and her family in front of the DGP’s office in Thiruvananthapuram was a black spot on the state police who indulged in needless highhandedness. But what makes matters worse is Vijayan’s open support for the police and ridicule of the strike a mother had taken out.
At a press meeting a day after the family had called off the strike, Vijayan questioned the very purpose of the strike Mahija had undertaken. Mahija’s words when she declined the CM’s invitation to meet him after the entire fiasco was over, summed up the huge gap the Kerala chief minister had managed to develop between himself and the people of the state.
“It was very painful to hear what the CM said about our agitation. Even after all this that we went through, it was not fair on his part to say so," a teary-eyed Mahija told mediapersons in Thiruvananthapuram before boarding a train back to her home in Kozhikode.
A Year Of Monumental Errors
Vijayan was no doubt voted in for change. This was partly because the former UDF (Congress-led United Democratic Front) government was in shambles, accused of corruption and misrule and partly because Vijayan was always seen as the ‘uncompromising no-nonsense Communist’ waiting in the wings to give the people ‘maximum governance’.
It is this image that has now taken a huge dent and Vijayan has only himself to blame. It was with the call ‘zero tolerance on corruption’ that Vijayan brought in his Man Friday Jacob Thomas to head the state’s Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB), the first appointment after he took over. But the same CM was perceived to be going back on his policy when he shunted out Thomas in March this year.
Vijayan did the firefighting for Thomas inside the state Assembly when the Opposition turned the heat on the officer and even took the powerful IAS lobby in the state by its horns. But when the same Thomas turned the heat on Vijayan’s own ministers including EP Jayarajan and others, Vijayan decided to dump Thomas.
In retrospect, Vijayan has not only made enemies out of an entire top brass of the civil service in the state, which even threatened to strike at one point, but by sacking Thomas has also sent out the perception that he was going a step back in the fight against corruption.
“What did Vijayan achieve from the Jacob Thomas episode? He has only succeeded in raising a huge question mark over his own credibility as the chief minister. This has eroded the trust among the officers in the state who now find it difficult to connect with him as their CM," said NM Pearson, a well-known political analyst in the state.
In this, the state saw an inept chief minister who changes policies to suit his own and his party’s vested interests. The fallout of this fiasco was much more. With the IAS machinery going on dormant mode, governance has literally taken a back seat in the state.
“There seems to be an absolute standstill in terms of governance. This is because disenchanted staff at the government secretariat are sitting on crucial files. Nothing has moved in the last few months. You can’t find a single department where a policy has taken wings," added Roy Mathew, a veteran journalist based in Thiruvananthapuram.
From the Law Academy College strike where students protested for a month with the support of both the BJP and the Congress, to the media lawyers standoff which saw media persons getting heckled and lawyers boycotting courts, to the molestation of an actor in Kochi to Mahija’s protest, the list of issues that struck the Left government is rather huge in such a short period.
But what has made it worse for the chief minister is the stand he adopted in most of these cases - look the other way and refuse to intervene. For instance, in the actor’s molestation case, the chief minister at a public function ruled out any chance of a conspiracy even before the police had completed an investigation.
Vijayan, A reluctant chief minister?
To top it all for Vijayan, the last 11 months has seen 13 high-profile political murders taking place in the state with the chief minister’s native Kannur district topping the list. More than 200 cases of political violence have also been reported from across the state.
If Vijayan’s inability as the chief minister to rein in his own party cadre had surprised many, others are shocked at the man’s words that went on to justify violence.
“See the RSS has an agenda in Kerala which they are trying hard to implement. They have the blessings of the central leadership too. If there is any violence then it is only retaliation to what they are doing," Pinarayi had told mediapersons during the height of Kannur violence. The BJP which had approached the central Home Ministry to intervene after the escalation of political violence, says Vijayan is still behaving like the party secretary of the CPM and not an all as the inclusive chief minister of the state.
“Vijayan is a complete failure as the chief minister. He has not been able to travel the distance from a party chief to someone who represents everyone’s interest. That is where the problem lies. It is his mindset that has failed him. He is still a revolutionary, not a statesman," said BJP’s state spokesperson MS Kumar.
The Congress-led UDF too is meanwhile on the offensive as the party feels that Oommen Chandy’s value as a Chief Minister has risen following Pinarayi’s dismal show. The Malappuram byelection which the UDF is likely to retain will further galvanise the Opposition.
There are many who feel that it is Pinarayi Vijayan’s inability to realise that he has moved from the AKG Centre, the CPM headquarters in Kerala to the Chief Minister’s chamber at the government secretariat, that is behind his lacklustre performance. Senior journalists say that his lack of administrative abilities has been exposed by perhaps an incompetent bunch of advisors around him.
“I just do not understand who is advising Vijayan. Either they are giving him the wrong feedback or it is the case of too many people around him. Or is he making all the decisions by himself as he seldom trusts anyone and is a master of his own mind? Whatever it is, he is playing his cards horribly wrong and the disconnect is so evident," added Gouridasan.
Many activists say that Vijayan’s actions, mannerisms and words over the last one year portray him more as the authoritarian party chieftain, that he was for more than a decade in the state than an all inclusive chief minister.
“There is a sense of arrogance to everything the man says and does. Look at how he speaks and conducts himself at the Assembly. He goes on to tell the opposition to ‘mind their business’ whenever they raise a serious issue. He then bullies young and inexperienced MLAs in the opposition, makes fun of them and gives an ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude which is not what you expect from a chief minister," said advocate Jayashanker, a prominent political analyst in the state.
On 17 April, the Mallapuram byelection results would be the first test for the Pinarayi Vijayan government. In all likelihood, the Muslim League would retain the seat at its stronghold.
But if their vote share goes dramatically high and the BJP comes anywhere close to catching the CPI(M), it is then that Vijayan’s headache inside the party will truly start.
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Updated Date: Apr 16, 2017 14:40:28 IST