POLITICS

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan Has Had A Turbulent First Year In Office

What’s on public display is a divided government that’s tired of defending itself against a persistent attack from the media.

27/04/2017 12:33 PM IST | Updated 27/04/2017 3:20 PM IST
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When the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government came to power in Kerala with nearly two-third majority in May last, nobody would have thought that the going would be this tough for the new chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. That the previous government was mired in scandals and corruption charges and the vote for change was unequivocally assertive across the state should have made the sailing easy for him.

But on the verge of his first anniversary in office, Vijayan is limping.

Two of his ministers had to resign within a few months of coming to power - one because of alleged nepotism and the other because of alleged misconduct - while a third almost lost his scalp because of his continuously abusive public behaviour. CPM, that leads the LDF, is accused of abetting land grab and preventing officers from taking action against the culprits in Munnar, a hill station on the western ghats.

A triple whammy on a government that's about to celebrate its first year in office is a big downer because its impact is not going to go away easily.

What's even worse is a historic Supreme Court verdict on Monday that asked Vijayan to reinstate a senior officer, that he removed immediately after becoming the chief minister, as the head of his police force.

A triple whammy on a government that's about to celebrate its first year in office is a big downer because its impact is not going to go away easily. Vijayan is still clueless as to what to do with the SC verdict because having a police officer - TP Senkumar - whom he had termed as a failure as the state Director General of Police (DGP) will amount to a complete loss of face, while keeping the abusive minister - MM Mani who handles the power portfolio - will be problematic because his party, the CPM, has publicly censured him.

Most of the mainstream media are relentless against Vijayan on these issues and keeping a straight face that he's known for is an everyday challenge.

The opposition is on a roll on Mani, the alleged land grabs and the Senkumar issue, and a group of women labourers are on indefinite agitation asking for Mani's resignation. Most of the mainstream media are relentless against Vijayan on these issues and keeping a straight face that he's known for is an everyday challenge. No other chief minister in the state had such a tumultuous first year in office - not even the first communist incumbent EMS Namboodirippad who was dismissed by the Centre in two years after coming to power in 1957.

Vijayan's problem is one of great expectations and his inability to come to terms with the demands of democratic governance. His party follows the doctrine of democratic centralism, which although sounds democratic, is about an inflexible dictum of the majority, regardless of the public mood. More over, part of the Vijayan legend, that has been reinforced over 16 years of his term as the CPM's state secretary, is about defiance, unquestionable authority and decimation of dissenting voices within the party. This faction-less world may work in a Marxist-Leninist party, but not in a democratic government.

The three issues that presently trouble him could have been easily avoided, had he been tactical with his ear to the ground and compliant with standard administrative practices.

The three issues that presently trouble him could have been easily avoided, had he been tactical with his ear to the ground and compliant with standard administrative practices. Posting a DGP that a ruling party is comfortable with as the head of the police is a standard practice across India, but not shaming the incumbent before throwing him out. Vijayan could have probably replaced Senkumar with an officer of his choice, but without antagonising him. Instead, he badmouthed him, including in the assembly, and attributed political motives even though his legal grounds - even in the light of the Kerala Police Act that the state had passed to circumvent some provisions of the Supreme Court verdict in the Prakash Sing Vs Union of India case - were weak. Senkumar took it as an affront to his reputation and went to the Central Administrative Tribunal, the High Court and the Supreme Court.

According to the Supreme Court order, the state government hadn't followed the law and had been unfair to Senkumar. Senkumar alleges that the files that were submitted in the SC to support his ouster were fabricated and would want an investigation into the conspiracy behind it. It is likely to spell more trouble for Vijayan because he is also the home minster and the files were prepared by his home secretary, who incidentally is the present chief secretary. If Senkumar pursues the conspiracy angle, at some stage, it might bring Vijayan also under a cloud of illegality.

Mani, who shot to national notoriety with his "1-2-3-4 speech" in 2012 in which he claimed that the CPM had indeed killed its political adversaries, had been a serial offender in using abusive and sexist language in his public speeches.

This was a clear case of defiance losing out to reconciliation that Vijayan could have avoided. More over, the new DGP Lokanath Behera didn't bring him any luck or laurels, but trouble.

The same defiance is hurting him in the MM Mani case as well. Mani, who shot to national notoriety with his "1-2-3-4 speech" in 2012 in which he claimed that the CPM had indeed killed its political adversaries, had been a serial offender in using abusive and sexist language in his public speeches. Despite public outcry, Vijayan made him a minister with an important portfolio.

Probably emboldened by the authority of a state minister, Mani continued with the same style till his latest speech landed him in trouble for its slanderous reference to an uprising by women labourers. Although Vijayan seemed to have distanced himself from the speech initially, he justified it in the state assembly as Mani's "rustic" style which also didn't say anything against women. However, on Wednesday, the CPM censured Mani because his speech "dented" the party's reputation. In other words, the positions of Vijayan and and the party were contradictory. The opposition parties are up in arms against Vijayan for misinforming the assembly and jumping to a conclusion too soon.

Here again, what trumped Vijayan was his defiance.

The CPI, the second biggest ally of the CPM in the LDF government, is in charge of the revenue department and is not happy with the way Mani and Pinarayi interfere with its work.

Along with the defence of Mani, Vijayan has also justified his abusive public outbursts against government officials who have been trying to evict land grabbers in Munnar. Mani wants the official action to stop in its present form because according to him the officials were targeting landless labourers while letting go of the big land mafia, whereas the opposition alleges that Mani is protecting the interests of the latter. The CPI, the second biggest ally of the CPM in the LDF government, is in charge of the revenue department and is not happy with the way Mani and Pinarayi interfere with its work. Pinarayi's support for Mani is borne out of his sense of loyalty and the interests of the party in Munnar. Reportedly, a number of CPM local leaders and their benefactors will be affected by the ongoing eviction drive. In his support of Mani and the party's interests in Munnar, Vijayan even took on the officers in the state assembly, a step that didn't go well with the general public and the state's media.

What's on public display is a divided government that's tired of defending itself against a persistent attack from the media.

What's unfortunate is that the present controversies will certainly take away the sheen of some of the achievements of the LDF government. Most of the mainstream media are severely critical of Vijayan, as much as they had been of the previous government, and even the CPI doesn't want to throw its weight behind him. What's on public display is a divided government that's tired of defending itself against a persistent attack from the media. The only way to move forward is by learning and embodying the distinction between the workings of a government and a communist party, dismantling the party propaganda machinery, and asking his supporters not to imitate his tone, tenor and style. Vijayan may also do well by shunning his administrative "innovation" of appointing a plethora of advisors on top of an eminent bureaucracy.

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