By K Raveendran
The affable C Achutha Menon, heading a coalition CPI-Congress ministry in the seventies, is widely rated as Kerala’s best chief minister ever, despite the obnoxious tag of Emergency attached to his ministry. While VS Achuthanandan is an all-time popular chief minister, whose public support, particularly among the youth, has been the envy of any politician, his party always breathed down his neck, according him little space to perform as he wished. So, when Pinrayi Vijayan was sworn in as chief minister in May last year, heading a ministry that enjoyed overwhelming majority, it was expected that he would better the record of all his predecessors. For, he had everything in his favour.
The party and the government were solidly in the hands of the same leadership; so there was no issue of fetters imposed from outside. He had a formidable administrative track record as the Electricity minister in the E K Nayanar ministry, during which time the state’s power sector made great strides. Incidentally it was during his stint as minister that he got involved in the SNC Lavalin case, which kept him away from active parliamentary politics for a long time until thee court exonerated him of any blame in a deal that spanned the tenures of different power ministers. T he final verdict, which was pronounced by the high court recently, had given a few anxious moments, but in the end everything went his way. And as a no-nonsense man who always meant business with a trade mark straight face, he was not swayed by anything that he considered below par.
While all this appeared solid on paper, as he began going about the business of governing, he soon fund the ground slipping when it came to day-to-day functioning of the government. Many of his decisions seemed to go astray, which landed him and his ministry in unsavoury controversies, often forcing the government to defend the indefensible. It all presented the picture of a man who lost his moorings and appeared confused and not in control.
When it came to the crunch, the Pinarayi government was invariably found taking the side of land grabbers, quarry mafia and crony capitalists, some of whom were wittingly or unwittingly included in the ministry. A minister, belonging to one of the coalition partners, has been accused of a series of unbelievable violations that Pinarayi has been forced to defend both inside and outside the assembly.
It became such an embarrassment to the ruling front and the government that a high court bench recently wondered whether it was really a communist government in power in Kerala. In a curious turn of events in the medical college admission case, a highly sensitive issue in the state, the high court asked whether the government was a toy at the hands of the college managements, which are known to run these institutions purely as a business. The court observed that such confusion has not been seen in any other state and that all are parties to the complication, especially the government, which created unnecessary confusion.
“Do we have to expect feudal approach from the Communist government,” the court asked. “Deserving students are denied opportunity. Is the government a plaything in the hands of the managements? This is a terrible stigma for Kerala, considered God’s Own Country, and a leader in education”. The court even remarked, though verbally, “The car’s engineering is good, except for the engine.”
The bungling meant that thousands of students desirous of seeking medical degrees find their dreams shattered, after the self-financing colleges managed to get approval for raising the fees from Rs 5 lakh to a whooping Rs 11 lakh in one go. This led to a massive outburst of emotions across the state as economically backward students found them incapacitated by the indifference of the government.
Although the state government moved the Supreme Court in a knee jerk reaction, the court rejected Kerala’s review petition and allowed the managements to go ahead with the increased fees.
Pinarayi has suffered a rare ‘foot in the mouth’ syndrome, which forced him to eat his own words, often said without any concern for sobriety or thought. He has also had a running feud with the media ever since he was party secretary, which blames him for a genetic disability to put on a smile on his face. Despite his party’s massive mandate, he has managed to put together a team, some members of which simply do not make the grade. Coupled with his own shortcomings, the total impact of all this has been a steep fall from the high pedestal that people had placed Pinarayi on a year ago. Pinarayi would do well to take a detached view of his ministry’s show so far, rather than go on an advertising binge to promote its credibility.