By K Raveendran
The affable C Achutha Menon, heading a coalition CPI-Congress ministry in the seventies, is widely rated as Kerala’s best chief minister ever, despite the obnoxious tag of Emergency attached to his ministry. While VS Achuthanandan is an all-time popular chief minister, whose public support, particularly among the youth, has been the envy of any politician, his party always breathed down his neck, according him little space to perform as he wished. So, when Pinrayi Vijayan was sworn in as chief minister, heading a ministry that enjoyed overwhelming majority, it was expected that he would better the record of all his predecessors. For, he had everything in his favour.
The party and the government were solidly in the hands of the same leadership; so there was no issue of fetters imposed from outside. He had a formidable administrative track record as the Electricity Minister in the E K Nayanar ministry, during which time the state’s power sector made great strides. Incidentally, it was during his stint as minister that he got involved in the SNC Lavalin case, which kept him away from active parliamentary politics for a long time until the court exonerated him of any blame in a deal that spanned the tenures of different power ministers. The high court verdict did give a few anxious moments, but in the end everything went his way. The case is now in the Supreme Court, but no one smells any danager as there is a widespread feeling that ‘adjustment’ politics with BJP would have taken care of it.
As a no-nonsense man who always meant business with a trade mark straight face, Pinarayi was not swayed by anything that he considered below par. While all this appeared solid on paper, as he began going about the business of governing, he soon found the ground slipping when it came to day-to-day functioning of the government. Many of his decisions seemed to go astray, which landed him and his ministry in unsavoury controversies, often forcing the government to defend the indefensible. It all presented the picture of a man who lost his moorings and appeared confused and not in control.
When it came to the crunch, the Pinarayi government was invariably found taking the side of land grabbers, quarry mafia and crony capitalists, some of whom were wittingly or unwittingly included in the ministry. Ministers and party colleagues have been accused of serious wrongdoings that Pinarayi has been forced to defend both inside and outside the assembly.
It became such an embarrassment to the ruling front and the government that a high court bench recently wondered whether it was really a communist government in power in Kerala. In a curious turn of events in the medical college admission case, a highly sensitive issue in the state, the high court asked whether the government was a toy at the hands of the college managements, which run these institutions purely as a business. The court observed that such confusion has not been seen in any other state and the government has had a hand.
“Do we have to expect feudal approach from the Communist government,” the court asked. “Deserving students are denied opportunity. Is the government a plaything in the hands of the managements? This is a terrible stigma for Kerala, considered God’s Own Country, and a leader in education”. The court even remarked, though verbally, “The car’s engineering is good, except for the engine.”
Pinarayi has suffered a rare ‘foot in the mouth’ syndrome, which forced him to eat his own words, often said without any concern for sobriety or thought. He has also had a running feud with the media ever since he was party secretary, which blames him for a genetic disability to put on a smile on his face. Despite his party’s massive mandate, he has managed to put together a team, some members of which simply do not make the grade. Coupled with his own shortcomings, the total impact of all this has been a steep fall from the high pedestal that people had placed Pinarayi on a year ago. He would do well to take a detached view of his ministry’s show so far, rather than go on an advertising binge to promote its credibility, which he did recently.