Kerala has witnessed a change of guards every five years. For almost four decades now, Kerala has voted the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) to power alternately.
By that trend, the Congress-led UDF should come back to power this time. But can Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan break the anti-incumbency pattern?
Here's a short round-up of Vijayan's political career.
In the first post-Emergency Assembly of Kerala, a 34-year-old Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA delivered a famous speech. Wearing a blood-stained shirt, the leader roared at the powerful Congress leader and then chief minister K Karunakaran.
That MLA was Pinarayi Vijayan. From the fiery legislative member to a composed chief minister, Vijayan is now praised for his administrative skills and shrewd political acumen.
Entry into politics
After finishing school, Vijayan worked as a handloom weaver to earn enough to attend Brennen College in Thalassery in the Kannur district. It was in college that he became a political activist as a member of the Kerala Students’ Federation (KSF), the youth wing of India’s undivided Communist Party.
In 1968, he was appointed as a district committee member of CPI (M)’s Kannur wing. Two years later, he was given the ticket to contest the 1970 assembly election from the Koothuparamba constituency in Kannur — a seat CPM had not won until then.
The party fared poorly in the election. However, Vijayan won from Koothuparamba seat and walked into the assembly as Kerala’s youngest legislator.
In May 2016, Vijayan won a seat in the Legislative Assembly election as the CPI(M) candidate for Dharmadom and became the 12th Chief Minister of Kerala.
Journey as Chief Minister
Vijayan’s early days as the CM were bumpy. He faced opposition within the party. Besides the internal conflict, Vijayan also had to work on becoming popular among the public.
The leader was trying to gain people’s trust when Cyclone Ockhi happened. In November 2017, the state government was criticised for mishandling the cyclone, which killed dozens of people, devastated fishing villages in capital Thiruvananthapuram, flooded farmland and damaged houses.
The lessons from Cyclone Ockhi proved to be a meaningful governance tool when massive floods hit Kerala the following year. In August 2018, when the flood was wreaking havoc in the state, the chief minister did not resort to any photo opportunity. Instead, he emerged as an able manager of one of the biggest crises in the state’s history. He cancelled all official programmes for a while and remained in the state capital to coordinate and oversee the rescue activities and relief measures personally.
The floods redesigned his image among the masses as a strong and determined leader. So did the Sabarimala controversy, which erupted following the state government’s efforts to implement the Supreme Court’s order on lifting a centuries-old ban on entry of women of menstruating age to the temple.
Despite massive protest by Opposition parties in the state, Vijayan stood strong on his decision of implementing the top court's order.
Impact of Sabrimala verdict, gold smuggling case
The issue of women’s entry into Sabarimala has been ferociously raised by both the BJP and Congress. Union Home Minister Amit Shah during a recent rally said that the "Sabarimala issue will have an impact on the Kerala assembly elections".
"There was government high-handedness at Sabarimala and it is an important issue in this election," he said.
The LDF has so far refrained from defending itself and accused the Opposition of giving the matter a communal colour.
Opposition parties have also raked up the gold smuggling case during the campaign for polls. The gold smuggling case relates to the seizure of about 30-kilogram gold worth Rs 14.82 crore from diplomatic baggage at Thiruvananthapuram international airport in July 2020, which is being probed by the Enforcement Directorate, Customs and the National Investigation Agency.
M Sivasankar, former principal secretary to the CM, now under suspension, was arrested in connection with the case and is on bail. The case is being probed by various central agencies, including the Enforcement Directorate.
The 'Love Jihad' issue, which was put on the backburner by the CPI(M)-led LDF and UDF headed Congress during the campaign for the assembly polls, has also reared its head in Kerala.
In its manifesto, the BJP has promised a special law to contain "Love Jihad" in Kerala.
Last year, the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church had stated that "Love Jihad is a reality" and alleged scores of Christian women from the state were being lured into the trap of Islamic State and used in terror activities.
The Synod, then, had accused the state police of not viewing the matter cautiously and taking timely action in such cases.
The state government then had rejected the charges, saying it has "no factual basis."
Vijayan is confident that the state government has done enough to secure a second term. “Kerala had faced unprecedented issues that could not normally be overcome, in the past five years,” he said adding that Cyclone Ockhi, Nipah virus outbreak, followed by what some termed as the deadliest flood of the century, and the COVID-19 pandemic had hit the state one after the other.
"At this juncture, we are approaching the voters with full conviction that it is a government which has done its maximum to the people," he said.
Dharmadam Assembly constituency in Kannur district will head for polls on April 6.
Vijayan is set to fight it out with UDF candidate C Raghunath and veteran BJP leader CK Padmanabhan.
Besides, the mother of the Walayar sisters is also in the fray. The two minor girls were found hanging under suspicious circumstances in their hut at Walayar in Palakkad district in 2017, after an alleged sexual assault on them.
On her decision to put up a symbolic fight, the girls' mother said: "I am not contesting to become an MLA or a minister... My fight at Dharmadam is seeking dharma... I want to ask the Chief Minister, where is justice?”
The Walayar sisters' mother has opted for "baby frock" as her symbol.
This is the second time Vijayan is contesting from Dharmadam. In the 2016 Assembly elections, he had defeated Mambaram Divakaran of the Congress by a margin of 36,905 votes.
Dharmadam is part of the Kannur Lok Sabha constituency, which falls in the Malabar region of Kerala.
Will the 2021 poll put an end to alternate rule?
The BJP is confident that the LDF-UDF pattern will break this election. The saffron party has claimed that people are looking for a change and would vote for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
However, opinion poll results released by various media houses have predicted continuation of the LDF rule in the state. But Vijayan has urged the Left cadre to not become overconfident and never show laxity in campaign work.
"Various survey reports have come now... Election is a political game... So what I would like to request to the Left party workers that do not be complacent and show any laxity in campaign works in the wake of these survey reports," Vijayan said.Click here for Moneycontrol's full coverage of the Assembly election 2021