By Prem Chandran
KERALA’S CHIEF Minister Pinarayi Vijayan turned 76 on Sunday, and he’s entering the final year of his five-year term as head of the LDF government. True to his sense of restraint in all matters personal, he has not celebrated his birthday on a public platform. The family, in its finest hour of joy, might have held a celebration of sorts at the CM’s official residence. Likely.
This is the time when the brand value of Pinarayi has shot up; he’s the unchallenged leader of the state, and the Opposition is scurrying for cover. It has no issue to raise against him in a serious manner, and the row over the Sprinkler deal – of a tie up with a US-based firm to share health-related data and develop some apps — has died down following court intervention. There lay its last word. The way the CM handled the Covid scenario in the state is drawing praise from near and far; the world media is singing paeans of a Communist government, though much of the global media exposure went the way of health minister KK Shailaja Teacher. Shailaja made a success out of her endavour with the solid support she got from the CM. On her own, there was a limit to what she could do.
The covid situation in the state was brought under control by hard work at various levels of governance, and not just by the admirable efforts of the health department alone. There virtually was no covid spread in the state, thanks to the effective work and coordination at multiple levels. It’s here that the CM’s highly organised role as commander in chief came in. Pinarayi Vijayan is a task-master; and, for Keralites, this is no revelation; they know as much about him. Pinarayi Vijayan came to head the government at the most inopportune season. The two floods – one virtually a deluge, followed by another year of heavy rains; which will now be followed by another season of rain and floods by August this year – tested the state’s patience; and of the CM too. The silver lining was the leadership that the CM extended on the crisis front. Whether his efficient handling of the crisis will win him and the LDF another term in power remains to be seen, a year hence.
The state’s elections are fought largely on communal lines. This scenario was accentuated since the late 1960s by the cobbling of a communal front by Congress leader K Karunakaran, now deceased, wherein parties caring for the interests of the Christians and Muslims thrived. The Nairs, another powerful community, did not need a party as the community remained well-placed in seats of governance and even at the political level. Both the CPIM and the Congress cared for the interests of Nairs, even as the Congress has a strong Christian component at its apex. Backward Ezhavas and the Dalits were mostly left out; other than that the CM post went to two leaders from their ranks — VS first and Pinarayi the next, in the LDF dispensations. Because UDF terms meant better times for the minorities, they are unlikely to vote for the Left in the next elections too. This, despite Pinarayi Vijayan’s special efforts to woo them. Every time the assembly elections come, the Communists win centrally with Hindu votes; once they are in power, the attempt of successive Left governments has always been to woo the other side – meaning the minorities. So far, this has not helped much; other than in the assembly bypolls in Chengannur first and Pala next. In both places, politics worked the other way round. The left fielded Christians as candidates and split the UDF votes in favour of the LDF nominees. Muslims were not a strong force in these constituencies. An Ezhava consolidation – in the aftermath of catcalls against Pinarayi Vijayan by NSS (Nair Service Society) leadership etc – saw LDF nominees of the numerically strong Ezhava shade winning the Konni and Vattiyurcavu byelections. In these too, Muslims were not a force. Sections of Christians too voted for the Left in these two bypolls, for whatever reason. Whether such sentiments can be carried forward, remains to be seen.
Those who vote on the basis of good governance – their number is not high in this highly politicized state—might vote for the LDF in general. Here too, a plus point is that the Pinarayi Government is seen to be less corrupt, but the actual scenario might be different. There are those who say the Communists now are more corrupt than the Congress and the regional parties, whose only ideology is for their leaders to make money. A similar tendency is visible with the two Communist parties too, and the general public is mindful of this. At every level, party leaders are out to make money. This was not the case in the past. The three-tier panchayat raj system, of village, block and district panchayats, opened up more scope for corruption. At least 30 per cent of the project outlays are going into the pockets of local politicians, people’s representatives and corrupt officials at all levels. The contractor takes a cut of 20 per cent. Meaning, on a safe reckoning, more than half the funds are lost or misappropriated. Any wonder, these parasites from families with no means for survival are now driving around in fancy luxury cars? Parasites kill the tree they grow on. These corrupt elements will kill the system of democracy itself over long term.
Pinarayi Vijayan may or may not be corrupt. What we know is he has a disciplined way of life. Yet, what must be noted is also that the CPIM turned into such a corrupt party, progressively so, during the term he headed it as state secretary or later as chief minister. This is not to ignore the presence of a large number of field workers in the two red parties who hardly take money in corrupt ways. Pannian Ravindran of the CPI is said to be a clean politician, a reason why he was edged out of the party’s state leadership. The gang of highway robbers in the party could not feel comfortable with Pannian at its head. If Pinarayi Vijayan takes credit for the growth and sustenance of the CPIM in the state, he must also take the blame for making the party a corrupt entity. The party is alternatively wielding power in the state since 1967, alongside the CPI. Reason why all the corrupt elements are making merry in the red edifices.
Why do corrupt people thrive in an organization or government? It is either because those who lead them from the front are corrupt or because no action is taken against the corrupt in the party or the government. This is the simple truth. The Congress party turned so corrupt due to the leaderships of Indira Gandhi first and Sonia Gandhi next. In the UPA –II period, it was robbery at its worst.
Huge amounts of Indian money have gone into the tax havens abroad in recent years; these are the money we paid as tax –and we pay it even when we buy a soap. Many Indian PSU banks were looted clean; Non-performing assets (or bad loans, or loans that are not paid back by those who have the means to pay, meaning the big business sharks with political patronage) was of the order or Rs 10lakh crore – looted money – two years ago. Modi and his government could not do much. He either did not know what to do, or did not have the ways and means to do. In India’s antiquated and corrupt systems, even a PM cannot go beyond a point. Courts will apply brakes. Courts are run by human beings. Recent exposes from within courts are shameful to the judiciary as a whole. What Modi, for one, could have done was to turn a despot and changed things for the better. Modi does not have as much guts.
In democracy, there are limitations to a leader, whether he is party secretary, prime minister or chief minister. As party secretary, Pinarayi Vijayan was always kept on a tight leash – with constant offensives against him by the VS Achuthanandan lobby; a lobby which used the veteran leader to promote their personal agenda.
Pinarayi Vijayan has less than a year to call the next elections. Looking back, he did good things on several fronts; and unveiled plans to take Kerala to high levels of progress in terms of infra development and business. But, nothing much has happened on the ground so far. The highway projects, for one. The Centre will not give money unless the state helped first in land acquirement. Then, the waterways project; the high speed TVM-Kasaragod rail line. Nothing much has happened on these fronts so far. He has just a few months left for governance.
Pinarayi Vijayan strengthened the government school education sector; and he strengthened the government hospitals. Both helped the ordinary masses. There were shades of a socialist temper. Now, I heard him on TV that he aims to turn Kerala into a higher education hub. He noticed that lots of students studying in other states from Kerala wanted to return home after completion of courses in Covid times. He needed to arrange transport or plead for special trains to the state from Delhi etc. The CM would do well to look back and see how he and his party undercut the opportunities that Kerala had in the past three decades – the high growth phase for higher education in India. The party and its student wing were in agitation mode against self-financing colleges—for no real reason, other than possibly some hidden interests, which are constant presences in the red parties. Perhaps, some elitist, academic lobbies worked behind the party to stall self-financing colleges coming up in the state; I guess, that’s.
The result was, when Keralites with money from the Gulf wanted to educate their children, there were no colleges here other than the existing ones where admissions were minimum and meant for powerful communities only. Hundreds of colleges sprang up in adjoining Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, in towns on the other side of the border. Money in billions flew out of Kerala year after year to these educational institutions. See the harm the Communist ideologists did to this state! Many of those who passed out from these institutions are earning huge money in Texas and other hi-tech cities in the US today. And we heard something through a YouTube video from a pretentious self-promotion expert like BERLIN Kunhananthan NAIR –a honorific prefix before his name and a honorific suffix after his name! What more can one make himself out of a simple lad born in a remote village in Kannur! It was that Pinarayi Vijayan took his daughter to one of these institutions across the Kerala border, the Amma edifice near Coimbatore, for a B.Tech admission; in the company of Kunhananthan, who acted as a go-between.
Also, student activism of the Communist shade undercut the cause of quality education in the state for long years. A strike and boycott of classes on one pretext or the other was a norm in the past.
Communism has harmed the state more than it helped. I hail from a traditional communist family, and was with the SFI while as a student. Once I left this state, over 40 years ago, and moved around, it was clear to me Communism was the most regressive of political engagements. None other than Fidel Castro stated recently, before his death of course, that Communism as a political ideology was a failure.
Today’s Russia is a dictatorship under Vladimir Putin; there is neither socialism nor Communism there. China grew by borrowing market economy inputs from Capitalist books. No need to mention here about another Communist enterprise called North Korea, run by another dictator as a family enterprise. Cuba is now run by another dynast, Fidel’s brother Raul. So much about the greatness of Communism. After Pinarayi Vijayan, a safe guess is that this red enterprise will perish here too.