Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan | Photo: Commons
File photo | Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan | Commons
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There is an unwritten rule in Kerala politics, that a Congress-led United Democratic Front government is followed by a CPM-led Left Democratic Front government. Just like voters in Rajasthan believe in turning the roti every five years lest it burn, so do voters in Kerala.

The alternation comes with the force of history. And that is all the Congress party in Kerala is banking on. Except for the idea that the people will give the Congress its due chance in power in 2021, there is little else for the party to pin its hopes on.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s management of the Covid crisis has been so popular that it is now a matter of wide speculation that the Left Democratic Front (LDF) could make history and return to power in Kerala when elections are held in May next year.

Vijayan’s Covid success has been remarkable: his daily evening press conferences in March-April became a cultural phenomenon. His unassuming Health Minister K.K. Shailaja ‘Teacher’ has been hailed internationally for nipping Covid in the bud. Given that the Gulf returnees were bringing the infection with themselves, Kerala should have been the worst-affected Covid state. That is what makes the achievement so remarkable.


Also read: How Kerala’s tough Covid rules have made 17% of its population ‘invisible’, hurting economy


Negative campaign

And yet, this is only one reason why Pinarayi Vijayan is — as of now — the frontrunner in the race to win the election next year. Perhaps a bigger reason than his Covid success is the Congress party, which is unable to hide its irritation, jealousy and anxiety over Vijayan’s success.

The top Congress leadership in Kerala has all gone into Mani Shankar Aiyar mode. Mani Shankar Aiyar had famously called Narendra Modi to come and sell tea at a Congress gathering in early 2014. This was a turning point in the 2014 Lok Sabha election because it confirmed everything the Modi campaign was saying about the Congress being disconnected elites who hated Modi because he was not from an elite background. This helped Modi make the 2014 election look like a class war.

The Congress in Kerala is ‘learning well’ from Aiyar and has been attacking the CPM leadership in a derogatory way, making light of its Covid achievements. The latest controversy is the Kerala Congress chief Mullapally Ramachandran making sexist remarks about Shailaja Teacher. He said Teacher was a “guest artist” who used the Nipah epidemic to become “Nipah Rajkumari” (Nipah princess) and has now become a “Covid Queen”. He went on to say that it would be fair to call her a “modern dancer” since she had been described as a “rock star” by The Guardian.

Apart from the misogyny, what comes through is a Congress leadership disconnected with Kerala’s young voters. When your leaders can’t even understand a metaphor like ‘rock star’, you are living on another planet.

Following the footsteps of Mani Shankar Aiyar, Ramachandran has refused to apologise. This is just the latest goof-up. The Congress in Kerala has been complaining non-stop about the Vijayan government’s popularity, thanks to Covid. The Congress’ whining begins with the assertion that since its past government also contributed to the state’s health infrastructure, they should also get some credit. The whining ends with a cry that Vijayan is doing “nothing” to contain Covid.

The Congress comes across as a cry baby, perturbed by Vijayan’s popularity in the fourth year of his government, which could mean the United Democratic Front (UDF) losing the election 11 months from now. In other words, the Congress is after power, whereas Vijayan is presenting himself as a pandemic slayer.


Also read: Man convicted of killing RSS worker attends wedding of Kerala CM’s daughter, stirs controversy


Lucky Vijayan

Pinarayi Vijayan also has luck on his side. He had a strongman image, the tough leader who ran the formidable, and often violent, CPM cadres. He’s not your intellectual Left leader. His rival within the party was V.S. Achuthanandan, who is now 96 years old.

With Achuthanandan going into the ‘Margdarshak Mandal’, CPM’s equivalent of the BJP’s consulting body, Vijayan was freed of factional pressures and became an unchallenged leader. The party chose him over Achuthanandan for the CM’s post in 2016. By contrast, the Congress in Kerala is ridden with the same factionalism as it is everywhere else.

The two main factions are led by Ramesh Chennithala, the leader of the opposition in the state assembly, and former chief minister Oommen Chandy. Despite the controversies that plagued Chandy’s previous regime, he remains the party’s most popular leader in Kerala. But the party’s reigns are with the Chennithala faction. At 64, Chennithala is younger than Chandy, 76. But young voters can’t relate to either, whereas Vijayan has become a millennial icon.

Then there are others, such as a group of bright young leaders who owe their allegiance to the most important Congressman in Kerala politics, Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi. As the Congress looks embattled with endless factionalism, Vijayan has surprised people by becoming more and more of a mass leader. He’s a hardliner who has become a large-hearted patriarchal leader.


Also read: Political value of a Communist CM’s daughter marrying a Muslim — Priceless for India’s Right


CPM vs BJP

What helped CM Vijayan was crisis after crisis. In the past four years, Kerala has been hit by non-stop crises. There was Cyclone Ockhi in 2017, the Nipah virus outbreak in 2018, and the devastating floods of 2018 and 2019, which are expected again this August. With every crisis, Vijayan has been able to learn better how to manage the political messaging during a crisis, and what it is that the people want to hear. And with every crisis, the Congress has become more and more of the whining, jealous kid.

There is still 11 months to go. Eleven months is an eternity in politics, but the slide of the Congress is made worse by social media. From Twitter to WhatsApp, the Kerala political conversation is between the CPM and the BJP. The Congress just doesn’t know how to butt in. The BJP’s outsized influence on Kerala politics means it is able to put the CPM on the mat better than the Congress, but it still has no chance of winning more than a seat or two.

As a result, the BJP can actually help the CPM by taking away the Congress’ Hindu upper caste votes. Meanwhile, the CPM has been doing its best to convince Muslims and Christians that the Congress practices soft-Hindutva.

Maybe, the force of history will make the UDF win in 2021. But if it loses, the defeat may be a devastating one.

The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.

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16 Comments Share Your Views

16 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t know in which world the author is…..

    LDF government of Kerala is the most controversial in recent times….

    PSC scam, Gold smuggling case, Life Mission scam, Appeasement of minorities all these factors are adding up to the anti-incumbency

    Pinarayi is deseperate for retaining the power and that is why bringing Scumbags like Jose k Mani to alliance

  2. All the comments here are before Swapna case, Life mission scam and huge spike in Covid cases.

    With the Gold smuggling case, it is proved beyond doubt that Pinarayi Vijayan was just a puppet in hands of some beuracrats.

    No longer Pinarayi is seen as a strong leader .

    Politics can change even in one day

    With the backdoor entry of party loyalists to Government jobs, now even Younger generation is hating this bloody rule

    Asianet news which predicted a return of LDF is now boycotted by CPM simply bcoz they don’t have answers to questions……

    LDF should go

  3. The fact that CM, Vijayan has done a good job in controlling the crisis that hit Kerala in the last four years, is beyond doubt. I have never been a supporter of Communism. Yet I am impressed by the way Mr Vijayan has handled things here in Kerala till date. I am most impressed by the work done by Shailaja Teacher. I believe she is a potential future CM in the making. I believe, barring any future miscalculation, Vijayan & his team deserve a 2nd stint. We need to reward good work.

  4. Congress has done nothing but cause confusion and question clever and practical decisions taken by the govt. And chennithala is a face of that. Young voters will never fall for them buf they are definitely confusing old people. Ummen chandy is definitely a more accepted leader but he is standing back to bing that guy forward. If continues to be the face of congress… its doom is certain which is dangerous for the politics of Kerala.

  5. Vijayan must be given credit also for thrashing RSS workers when they tried to create communal mischief or attack CPM workers. That is the only language they understand. The reason could handle Covid, Nipah and flood is because they kept the destructive Sanghis at bay.

  6. I read this Shailaja teacher started planning for Covid in January before there were any cases in India. Asked why, she said she reads papers and international news everyday, and became aware of Wuhan. She knew Kerala had students in Wuhan, so it was a matter of time, before it was brought. Such anticipation – wow !

    In the north, they have a jahil Yogi who looks after cows and puts doctors in jail.

    Gujarat model was always fake .. Gujarat has the highest morbidity. The world is hearing about a Kerala model.

  7. For those who think Shivam is a liberal, this piece must be enlightening. He is a commie covered in liberal clothes. He was once the editor of HuffPost, a far left outlet.

    • Can you prove that HuffPost is Far-Left???
      Please don’t make such sweeping remarks without any evidence.
      How would you like it if I call you a BJPig or a Gobarbhakt?
      Everyone is a commie, traitor, paki, leftist but only you are the most unbiased true Indian, isn’t it?

  8. CPM votebank is Muslims and lower caste Hindus and Congress votebank is Christians and upper caste Hindus. The floaters decide which party wins and hence govt alternates between CPM and Congress allies. For the BJP to win it needs the upper caste votebank of the Congress and the lower caste votebank of the CPM. The BJP’s antics with CAA-NRC might win it votes of North Indians but it has not impressed any minorities – Muslims and Christians. Also under Modi the BJP has a reputation of being uncaring for the lower caste concerns. The Malayalee lower caste voters are unlikely to also be impressed with politics of cooking gas or toilets or jandhan/Ayushman Bharat etc. because most people in Kerala do have all these. If BJP needs to win in S India, it needs to change its behavior in N India. At the most it can win upper caste Hindu votes but that may work for one election – 2 consecutive terms by CPM will almost certainly see upper castes returning back to the Congress fold.

  9. FOr BJP to grow, Congress needs to die in Kerala. And when you think about it, power patronage and not cadres keep the congress alive. The more Congress remains away from power, the less they patronize and melt away more they do.

    BJP will vote en mass for LDF in 2021 to ensure Congress is kept away and die a quick death. Capturing one pole of polity is BJPs near term aim.

    Vijaya should win hands down if he gets a good percentage of 16% off Sangh votes.

  10. A leader per excellence !! One should learn from this gentleman how to run a govt. The CPM in West Bengal and Tripura should take lesson from this person !! Red salute…Comrade !!

    • This “gentlemen” once scolded his party men “learn from our West Bengal comrades how to use salt to make murdered bodies disappear. It is foolish to just bury your murder victims and cause me problems later.” Verified by CPM leader.

  11. SHYLAJA TEACHER. ROCK STAR. YES SHE IS ROCK STAR.. NOT FOR NOTHING. SHE PROVED IT. WE KERALITES ARE LUCKY TO HAVE HER AS MINISTER AT THE RIGHT TIME(s). BE IT NIPA PRINCESS OR NIPPA QUEEN.OR ANY THING HIGHER.SHE IS IT

    • Hi, i saw the comment by Dr. Joji Cherian. I just want to contact Joji if He is the Person whom i think He is. You studied dentistry at Trivandrum Dentaltechnik Collage for 1965 onwards, right? we were then together for pre. Professional in the intermediate college. I am Dr. Chacko. If you are the above person contact me at geechacko@gmail.com. Otherwise just ignorent this

    • Pinarayi Vijaya will be ever remembered as the worst chief minister kera ever had.. forget about returning to power. Communism is going to the mud for ever in Kerala. He will be remembered as the last communist chief minister of Kerala

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