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How ‘captain’ Pinarayi Vijayan led LDF in Kerala, is set to break a decades-old record

LDF is all set to return to power in Kerala, defying all tradition. And the man responsible, ‘captain’ Pinarayi Vijayan, proved himself to be an efficient crisis manager.

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New Delhi: Captain, comrade and crisis manager — Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s ‘magic’ is all set to result in a massive win for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the state, the first time for an incumbent in four decades.

The CPM-led alliance has managed to defy the decades-old tradition of Kerala voters alternating between the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) governments in the state. The LDF is projected to win between 85 and 95 seats, while the UDF could manage only 40-45 seats in the 140-member strong assembly.

While the LDF boasts of multiple popular party leaders and ministers, Pinarayi Vijayan is indisputably the face of the alliance, leading them in the assembly election from the front. From handling multiple crises that hit the state one after another in the last five years, to carefully crafting his image and persona as the ‘captain’, Vijayan presented himself as an efficient administrator — even with critics terming his approach ‘authoritarian’ at times.

Also read: Why liberals are wary of Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF’s return in Kerala

Crisis manager

One of the biggest points that worked in the LDF’s favour was Vijayan’s image as an efficient crisis manager, which has only gained more prominence and popularity in the past few years.

During its tenure, the LDF government saw many crises hit Kerala — the cyclone Ockhi in 2017, the Nipah outbreak in 2018, the floods that ravaged several districts in 2018 and 2019, and finally the 2020 Covid pandemic. In all of this, Vijayan emerged as a hands-on, proactive and transparent leader, helped by his efficient team that included Health Minister K.K. Shailaja. The LDF kept the people of Kerala in loop with the developments and the government’s planning for the crisis at hand.

The rescue and rehabilitation processes undertaken during the floods, the delivery of free food packets and flood kits, and the constant media briefings by the chief minister himself — it was a mix of delivery and communication, and the election result shows the LDF benefitted from both.

Then, during the first nationwide lockdown announced by the Narendra Modi government in March 2020, when migrant labourers across India struggled to cope and walked hundreds of kilometres to reach home — Kerala stood out with its welfare programmes and service delivery.

It promised an advance payment of welfare pensions, free food kits to PDS card holders, and reached out to the group by referring to them as ‘guests’, not migrants.

These measures left an impression among the voting public, evident from the responses of the number of people ThePrint spoke to in March when covering the election. “How can we forget what the government did for us in these very difficult times? They stood by us, we will stand by them,” Basheer Ahmed, an LDF supporter and factory worker in Kochi, had said.

Also read: UDF had a chance in Kerala. Then Congress played a dangerous communal game

Creation of ‘captain’ 

It wasn’t just the welfare politics that helped the LDF in this election. The alliance worked towards presenting Pinarayi Vijayan as a larger-than-life figure. In May last year, the Congress accused the LDF of having roped in a PR agency to market the CM better. Vijayan denied it, saying “people know me” and that he “doesn’t need such props.”

Regardless, the LDF did actively push the ‘captain’ tag for Vijayan — a shift from the earlier ‘comrade’. This even stirred a slight controversy within the LDF camp, with many questioning this move towards cult-worship and going against Leftist traditions. Vijayan himself has been a harsh critic of cult-worship and had even hit out at party senior and former Kerala CM V.S. Achuthanandan over it.

“The growing desire for a ‘strong leader’ across the country, including Kerala, is what has really helped the LDF. Vijayan has led from the front during all the crises that hit the state. His no-nonsense, straightforward approach has really helped him establish himself as a strong, big leader,” said J. Prabhash, a Kerala-based political analyst.

However, sceptics and critics of the LDF have called Vijayan’s style of functioning authoritarian at times. “Whether or not it is the most democratic approach is a longer debate, but for now, for this particular election, Vijayan has given people what they needed: an efficient administrator,” Prabhash added.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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