India: Pinarayi Vijayan government in Kerala has a mission

By Dr. Abdul Ruff

It appears Kerala state of India is on a mission to change the life of people for the better and to give a new look for the state governance.

A new CPM led Left Democratic Front government assumed office in Kerala on May 25 after people of Kerala voted out the Congress led UDF through elections to state assembly as part of democratic process. By replacing high profile Oommen Chandy of Congress party, Pinarayi Vijayan, 72 of Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPM, became the chief minister as MLAs preferred him to lead the state from the front to former CM Achuthanandan who has also won the poll from his Malampuzha constituency.

The LDF led by the CPM won a decisive mandate in the 16 May assembly elections with 91 out of the 140 seats. Voters of Kerala gave the clear mandate to Left parties with a hope of getting a better corruption free and liquor free and efficient governance and the CM Pinarayi Vijayan has begun his rule in the most credible manner. He first convened the government officials and instructed them to speed up their work so that files do not pile up on their tables and people get justice quickly enough. This is the first time a CM has done so and spread rays of hope of better life for Keralites. CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s move is seen as an important beginning to fulfill the biggest tasks that confront the new government:

India is basically an agrarian country and major productions include agricultural goods and central government’s new policy of sustained food production requires every state to produce food crops to feed the population. But Kerala has been ignoring that aspect of governance in a step by step manner and instead buys food, including vegetables, pulses and fruit from Tamil Nadu leading to sharp price rise and shortage for Tamils. And, that is quite natural. When one state produces food for two states the prices skyrocket and shortage would be sharp.

The regular flow of Gulf money from Keralites working in Arab world has made the Kerala state government to decide, so far, to do away with cultivation of lands and let the lands to be used for buildings like houses and shops, institutions etc to help land-estate mafias thrive with quick big money.

The main priority of the Pinarayi Vijayan government is to retrieve the agricultural lands and create more lands for agricultural purposes. But the problem is that all developments or otherwise are linked with party politics and most of the political outfits have a direct hand in illegal land and sand dealings and many pro-left people are also engaged in such nefarious dealings. .Their active role in sand mining and liquor trade is well known.

The Pinarayi Vijayan government seems to be serious about giving the status state agriculture deserves and its action is closely watched by one and all. CM Pinarayi Vijayan is not known as a “usual” leader who would just do the “routine” things and get away with.

In order to accomplish fulfillment of popular mandate he and his party got in the poll, he requires the active support of the officials and hence he has begun earnestly. No program can be successfully implemented without the committed support of the officials and once they are with a committed government, even the shameful anti-people issues like corruption and liquor culture can be rooted out of the state and India and agriculture could be brought back to its place.

Petro rupees have changed the overall scenario of Kerala. Not long ago, Keralites went to other states to work and earn money but now they g only to Gulf nations for big money while people from other states, especially West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, etc, come to Kerala to work in shops, hotels, construction works and on reads etc . Thee really a labor shortage in Kerala with every able bodied Keralite aim to land the Arab world for labor. It has the nation’s largest politically aware population, which actively participates in state politics. Politics in Kerala is dominated by two political fronts: the CPI(M)/CPI-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Indian National Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) since late 1970s.

Popular hope for better life and better Kerala has got a sound base as they have trust in the new leader. Pinarayi Vijayan, known as a taskmaster and an organization man to the core, has pipped his bitter rival V S Achuthanandan to the top post in Kerala politics, notwithstanding the spirited campaign also by the 93-year-old leader to ensure the Left’s victory in the Assembly election. People chose the Left parties as they wanted to get rid of highly corrupt Congress led UDF government.

Vijayan r Vijayan was born on March 21, 1944 to Mundayil Koran and Kalyani in Pinarayi in Kannur district, the place where the Communist movement in Kerala began. He became the Kannur district secretary of the Kerala Students Federation while studying for BA (Economics) in Brennen College in Thalassery and also worked as a handloom weaver after his schooling for a year before being able to continue his higher studies. He went on to become its state secretary and, later, state president of the KSF. In 1968, at the age of 24, Vijayan even found a place in the Kannur district committee of the CPI (M).

Two years later, the party gifted r Vijayan a sure ticket at Koothuparambu and he became MLA at the age of 26. Vijayan was elected to the state Legislative Assembly three times later in 1977, 1991 and 1996. He rose to prominence when he won in 1977 and again in 1991 from the same constituency. With better grip on the party, he became the CPI (M) district secretary in Kannur in 1978. Vijayan, who took part in various agitations, was subjected to torture during the Emergency and during earlier agitations. He once recalled that six policemen continuously beat him on the night of September 28, 1975 till he fainted in the lockup. After his release, he came to the Assembly and made a powerful speech holding up the blood-stained shirt he wore during the assault on him in the police lock-up. His speech attacking then Home Minister and senior Congress leader late K Karunakaran was considered to be a glorious chapter in the legislative papers.

Hailing from a poor toddy tapper’s family, the 72-year-old CPI (M) leader belongs to the politically dominant Thiyya community like his party rival Achuthanandan, who is an Ezhava from South Kerala but the BJP used that community to make inroads into Congress bases and even win a seat from the capital region. Popularly known as ‘Pinarayi’, Vijayan is a party politburo member and perhaps the only communist leader in recent years to have had a complete control over the party for 16 years till he stepped down from the post of state secretary last year.

A man of few words as believer in deeds rather than word Vijayan proved his organizational capability in the state during this period. He had a short stint as the state’s power Minister during 1996-1998. The cloud of a graft case in connection with awarding of contract to a Canadian company SNC-Lavalin for modernization of three hydel projects during that period haunted him with his rivals using it to target him. Vijayan has always maintained that it was a politically motivated case and there was no wrong doing. Apart from the SNC-Lavalin case, the murder of RMP leader T P Chandrasekharan, a former CPI (M) leader, at Onjiyam in Kozhikode in 2012, when he was the party state secretary, dented Vijayan’s image.

While his critics described him as a leader “with no smile on his face and the most feared politician in Kerala”, his party rivals have often accused him of deviating from the party line.
During his rule as state secretary, the infighting in the party between r Vijayan and his bete noire Achuthanandan came to the fore. His elevation to the Chief Minister’s chair is also seen as a victory in the bitter power struggle with Achuthanandan, a popular leader who was in the race for the top post.

Along with Achuthanandan Vijayan was also suspended from the CPM politburo in 2007 along with Achuthanandan after the two openly criticized each other through the media. Later they were reinstated in the politburo. However, Mr Achuthanandan was again dropped from the highest party body for breaching party discipline.

Vijayan proved his mettle as an able administrator during his short stint as power minister in the LDF ministry headed by late E K Nayanar during the period 1996-1998. During his tenure, the state witnessed a giant leap in power generation and distribution capacities due to the productive measures taken by him as a minister.

Apart from agricultural sector other challenges confronting the Pinarayi government are corruption at all levels, liquor culture which even the last communist governments also promoted, heavy unemployment, weak treasury, plans to create employments so that Keralites can stay in the state and work for its development and share the fruits of development and growth.

Kerala’s electorate has always had a tradition of alternating between the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). Even so, this time around, the corrupt image of the UDF was a crucial factor in its defeat. Eight out of every 10 in Kerala thought the UDF government was corrupt and more than one-third thought it was “very corrupt,” according to a post-poll survey published in Indian Express. About 14% who were otherwise satisfied with the UDF government’s performance saw it as being “very corrupt”, and among them 60% voted for the LDF, said the survey.

The big challenge for Vijayan will be to undo the damage done by the previous UDF government. While the public would certainly want the new government to be corruption-free, they would not want to see it as a pure witch-hunt government, targeting the opponents as is the case in general with all governments launching corruption free governance. The Indian voters want the government to move forward n providing a clean and efficient government and they see Vijayan as the right person to fulfill their democratic dreams. ”

The public debt of Kerala stands at Rs.1.3 trillion, according a report last year by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). “The new government has indicated that it would raise tax rates, and improve their tax collections. But our studies suggest that it may not be enough,” says Dhanuraj, founder and head of the Centre for Public Policy Research. “At the centre of this crisis will be the socialist form of governance that Kerala has so far followed, something the CPM is so fond of. Circumstances are such that this form of governance will be intensely debated in the coming days,” he said. “We expect the efficiency of public sector units, one of the reasons of the debt, to be highly debated in the next few months. The government may not be able to contain the debt crisis if it does not look at the pricing of electricity and water. If it plans to open up education and health sector, that will also trigger debates,” said Dhanuraj.

It is still not clear just where the incoming government stands on banning alcohol, which is a touchy subject in Kerala. The UDF, which came to power in the state with a wafer-thin majority of two seats in 2011, imposed gradual prohibition from 1 April 2014, at an estimated loss of Rs.1,800 crore to the exchequer, citing the risk to public health from alcohol. All bars in the state except the ones in five-star hotels are banned from selling liquor.

The LDF manifesto said the front will encourage giving up liquor through awareness campaigns, which does not necessarily mean prohibition, and will raise the legal drinking age to 23 years. But it remains silent on whether it will allow reopening of the bars closed during the term of the previous government as part of its policy of gradual prohibition.

In the next budget, the new government said it would continue to the policy of the Congress government and refused reverse the previous government’s prohibition policy and allow new liquor licenses in the state, a decision that will have well wishes of the people, especially the women voters who are fed up with liquor menace. Pinarayi government should push for total prohibition. The heaven would not fall down if people stop “enjoying” liquor culture and don’t queue up in front of liquor shops.

Most young Keralites live in Mideast and rise of oil prices increase their wages and salaries. The oil price crash has dealt a severe blow to legions of Malayalees who work in oil-rich Gulf nations and millions of their relatives back in Kerala who wait eagerly for money transfers. Much of development in Kerala owes to the gulf money. Many Keralites are returning from the Gulf as a result of the oil price crash. This is a new reality, the return of Gulf migrants. Several parts of Kerala are facing side-effects of this. If it becomes an exodus, the new government will have a tough time making up for the dip in remittance deposits and in re-employing the returnees. Kerala government does not want the Malayalees to return home. That would a burden on state, politicians say. .

Religious tension is emerging in parts of the state with the rise of Hindutva fundamentalism and its embodiment BJP. The government will be expected to provide an all-out effort to protect the secular fabric of Kerala society. As Congress maintains secret cause with BJP and other Hindutva parties and organizations like RSS at national level and jointly fighting against the historic Babri mosque, it might take the help of BJP to weaken the communist rule.

The Left government took office at a time when the its famed development model, which has not quite trickled down to its lower castes, women and children, liquor and land- sand mafias is getting widely debated after the recent rape-murder of a Dalit law student . Many of the problems it is facing today are the result of failures of its development itself.

There’s a lot of talk about large-scale urbanization in Kerala, but nobody is talking of managing problems of growth. The new government cannot afford to neglect that aspect. The government should review the decision of the Congress government to have plenty of airports in this small state by acquiring lands and ousting the local people from their homes and lands.

Communist government is duty bound to provide clean water, cheap electricity for the common masses and maintain cities clean from dirty wastes and generate employment for the educated.

It is prime duty of the government to provide sustenance, safety and security of the people and not to drive them away from their homes. No development can succeed in the long term if that is achieved by tormenting the people who live in a rural zone where government proposes airports.

The new government needs to be new in ideas and achievements and therefore abandon its past “usual” policies.  If it wants to succeed, the new Kerala government needs to use its planning board for envisaging agriculture and employment creations in a better fashion. The government may not succeed in achieving its mission unless it blocks the mafia gangs freely moving about in the State Secretariat in the capital, including people who use their media IDs – both real and fake- to make huge money in black deals with officials on behalf of the “needy’ person on payment basis. They belong to almost every party.

CM Vijayan and his team need to be sincere. The choice is absolutely theirs!

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Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff is an independent analyst; columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics; expert on Mideast affairs, chronicler of foreign occupations & freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.); Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA); commentator on world affairs & sport fixings, former university teacher and author of eBooks/books

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