Kerala is famous for electing the Left Democratic Front and United Democratic Front by rotation. That tradition is going to be broken. I join those who predict that Pinarayi Vijayan will win the coming election and stay on in office, making him the first Kerala chief minister to enjoy a continuum of power.
And that will be good for the state. No chief minister has blossomed the way Vijayan has. He is hardly the communist party boss he started out as. He is now a leader of all people, easily the best chief minister in the country. (There are some laughable surveys that mention Yogi Adityanath as the best chief minister. Poor guy. Can’t even ensure basic law and order in his state.) Pinarayi Vijayan’s uniqueness has already attracted world attention. The research think tank, Public Affairs Centre, picked Vijayan’s Kerala for the Best Governed State Award for three consecutive years from 2016.
The state ranked first in the UN’s Sustainable Development Index in 2018. This kind of recognition drew attention to some unique features of Kerala. The Apna Ghar project that provided quality housing for migrant labour was an example. Another was the IT Park scheme that attracted 165 companies providing 50,000 jobs. Public schools in Kerala now have hi-tech classrooms. At the social level, non-Brahmins and Dalits can be seen working as priests in temples. No wonder Vijayan has found admirers beyond the boundaries of his party.
Home Minister Amit Shah stands out as a sulky, bad-tempered critic. On his latest visit to the state, Shah spoke about gold and dollar smuggling cases and their suspected links with the Left government. The Customs Department was said to have told the High Court that the accused in the cases “has made shocking revelations against the Chief Minister and the Assembly Speaker and some ministers”.
The Chief Minister did not seem at all intimidated by the charges levelled by the powerful Home Minister. Describing Shah’s campaign in the state “an insult to Kerala”, Vijayan posed some questions of his own. “Isn’t a known Sangh Parivar person one of the main conspirators of gold smuggling in diplomatic baggage?” he asked. To drive the point home, he further asked: “Isn’t Thiruvananthapuram airport entirely under central government? How did this airport become a hub of gold smuggling since BJP came to power? Amit Shah must answer.”
There was no answer from Amit Shah. No one gave any answer to some truly embarrassing questions Pinarayi came up with. “Weren’t Sangh Parivar people appointed intentionally to various posts at Thiruvananthapuram airport to facilitate gold smuggling? Wasn’t the direction of the probe changed when it was pointing towards your own people? Wasn’t it to derail the probe that officials including Joint Commissioner of Customs were transferred overnight? Has the person who sent the gold been questioned in eight months?” No one was surprised that no answers came.
Amit Shah has a well deserved toughman image. His portfolio gives him enormous powers. His record reinforces the impression that those who offend him would be sorry for it. That is why we hear no one challenging him or trying to confront him. That is also why Shah is often more aggressive than he needs to be. Where a grass-mower would do, he roars in like a JCB.
He should have known that Kerala is unlike other states. And also that Pinarayi Vijayan is unlike other chief ministers. If he had understood those basics, he would not have been exposed so badly in Thiruvananthapuram. Vijayan needed only a few words to show that the mighty Shah was no match to him. He said: “I have not been jailed for kidnapping... Your culture is not my culture.” Enough. Not another word was needed.
Pinarayi Vijayan would be a useful case-study for political leaders. He was a communist who would have got drowned in any other state; he survived in Kerala because communism is not feared there. Communism itself underwent some changes in Kerala and Vijayan evolved into a supra-party leader. He brought real, palpable progress to his state and its people. Once upon a time only communist cadre recognised his leadership. Now all of Kerala applauds him. Congress leaders continue to attack him, knowing that their bravery has little effect. Vijayan has won the approval of all. He will continue as the head of government.