As Pinarayi Vijayan swears in as the new Chief Minister of Kerala on Wednesday, there is a lot of optimism in the air. All his initial signals have been progressive, promising and visibly resolute. Suddenly he also seemed to have undergone a makeover — from a tough party satrap to a people’s man who brooks no nonsense.
Pinarayi’s LDF government will be certainly a lot different from the previous UDF government led by Oomen Chandy for a number of reasons. The most conspicuous of them is the absolute stability that the LDF enjoys because of the massive margin the front has won over its rival. The LDF has 38 more seats than the UDF, which is 19 times more than the margin the latter had over them in the last election. This will ensure that the government will never be at the mercy of small parties haggling for their share of power and other entitlements.
The biggest handicap of the UDF government had been that Oomen Chandy had to capitulate to the constant demands, tantrums and blackmail-threats of his coalition partners. In the UDF, it was impossible to pursue any policy without the concurrence of its multiple partners with competing interests that are communal, commercial and political. In comparison, the LDF government has a single major partner - the CPI, which is ideologically on the same side - and a couple minor partners - JD(S) and NCP - that are far from demanding. In fact, in the face of the brute majority of the CPM and the CPI together, the minor partners have to be content with whatever they get.
Pinarayi has never been a topper in popularity charts and hence all his initial moves have been to assume a brand new image. None of the opinion polls, which incidentally predicted an easy victory for the LDF, gave him any chance. In fact, he not only fared worse compared to VS Achuthanandan, but also came behind Oomen Chandy. While about 36 percent of the people apparently wanted VS to head the government, only 16 precent supported Pinarayi. In comparison, Oomen Chandy was chosen by about 34 percent.
Probably, this reality nags him and he wants to address it upfront. In his first press conference after being chosen as the Chief Minister, he tried to be extra-pally with the journalists, which some critics said didn’t suit a Communist. However, more than these gestures, what was more appealing was the promise of a government that he said would stand for justice, prosperity, unity, and for everyone. He declared zero tolerance to corruption and said that his ministry would be frills-free: no unwanted expenditure, no unnecessary renovation of ministers’ residences, no fancy cars, no big personal entourage etc.
The cabinet too is refreshingly new. Except three seniors, all the others’ in the CPM’s list of 11 ministers are newcomers, with impressive backgrounds. The seniors — Dr Thomas Issac, G Sudhakaran and AK Balan — are real veterans. The others have been chosen for their political constituencies and acumen. Unlike in the UDF camp, where each post had to be decided based on caste and religion, there was no apparent appeasement angle in CPM’s choices. Of course, the newcomers will have to prove their mettle because their party has promised quite a lot.
The CPI went even a step further by choosing all newcomers for their quota of four ministers. Reportedly, there was some resentment within the CPI camp, but the party leadership chose to ignore them. The NCP and the JD(S) will have one minister each.
An uneventful selection of ministers, without any noise or internal squabbles, is a good sign of discipline and order within the ruling front compared to the UDF, where, this process would have been fraught with factional feuds, internal and external threats and a lot of sulking leaders. Moreover, the UDF also cannot keep religious and community leaders away from their decision making process. The latter in fact influence every major decision of the UDF. In the case of LDF, except the party leadership, nobody spoke a word and the religious as well as community leaders were kept at bay.
The LDF came to power on the wings of a vituperative anti-corruption campaign against Oomen Chandy and his ministers. Now that they are in power, they have to prove every charge that they had hurled at the UDF, particularly the “solar scam”, bar-bribery and illegal grant of land to private companies. Two of the CPI ministers have said they would investigate the corruption charges in their respective ministries, but the CPM is yet to say anything concrete. If the government fails to investigate these scams and send the people responsible to jail, it would expose LDF’s credibility. The BJP, which is trying to wriggle in to the limited space for a third player, has already charged the LDF with possible “compromise” politics with the UDF. Pinarayi certainly has to prove the BJP wrong and demonstrate to the people of the state that his war against corruption was genuine, and not just political opportunism.
However, the publicity blitzkrieg surrounding the new government has taken some sheen away from Pinarayi’s promises.
Two days ago, he promised austerity as a stated policy, but what followed was extravagance. Reportedly, the swearing in ceremony on Wednesday will cost a lot of money in terms of the organisation of the event (Mathrubhumi Television channel pegged it at Rs 50 lakhs while some others said it would cost about Rs One crore) and advertisements. All national dailies from Delhi have carried front (full) page advertisements announcing the arrival of the LDF government.
This may be considered a one time blip because the LDF manifesto is a promising mix of growth and welfare. Delivering even half of what the front has promised will make a lot of difference to the state. It will also require a lot of hard work and resources.
Let Pinarayi take his time and prove his supporters right, and detractors wrong. If he delivers on what he has promised, it will certainly move the state out of its stasis.
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Updated Date: May 25, 2016 16:47:45 IST