File image of Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan
In the first post-Emergency Assembly of Kerala, a 34-year-old Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA delivered a legendary 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. Covering the journey from the fiery legislative member to a composed chief minister, Vijayan is now known for his excellent administrative skills and shrewd political acumen.
Vijayan was the youngest son of Koran and Kalyani, a couple from Pinarayi village in Kannur district of Kerala. He was their one of the only three children out of 14 who survived. It is the name of his birthplace that now serves as a prefix to his name.
First steps into politics
After finishing school, Vijayan started working as a handloom weaver to earn enough to attend Brennen College in Thalassery in Kannur district. It was in college that he became a political activist as a member of the Kerala Students’ Federation (KSF), youth wing of India’s undivided Communist Party.
It was the first step of Vijayan’s way up the hierarchy. In 1968, he was appointed 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 Koothuparamba constituency in Kannur—a seat CPM had not won until then.
The party fared poorly in the election, as it was reduced to its lowest tally (28 seats) in the assembly. However, Vijayan won from Koothuparamba and walked into assembly as Kerala’s youngest legislator, a record still unbroken.
He was arrested and allegedly tortured by the police during the Emergency of 1975-77. After his release, he delivered a legendary speech in Kerala assembly while waving his blood-stained shirt, pointing to the alleged brutality he faced.
He was re-elected in 1977, 1991, 1996.
In 1996, he became a minister handling the electricity and cooperative portfolios. In 1998, he was appointed the state secretary of the CPI(M). He served at the position for 17 years and became the party’s longest-serving secretary in Kerala.
When the Left Democratic Front (LDF) was voted to power in the 2016 Assembly elections, Vijayan was appointed chief minister.
Journey as Chief Minister
Vijayan’s early days as CM was bumpy. The sidelining of VS Achuthanandan, 93 then, did not go down well with a section of cadre and Vijayan faced opposition within the party.
Besides internal conflict, Vijayan also faced the challenge of becoming popular among the public.
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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 nearly dozens of people, devastated fishing villages in capital Thiruvananthapuram, flooding farmland and damaging houses.
The lessons from Ockhi proved to be a meaningful governance tool when massive floods hit Kerala next year. In August 2018, when the flood was wreaking havoc in the state, the CM did not resort to any photo opportunity. Instead, he emerged as an able crisis 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.
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The floods redesigned his image 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, the CM stood strong on his decision of implementing the SC order.
In his three years of ruling, the minister has not resorted to any political gimmicks. Instead, he has carved a separate space in the political gallery with his decisions taken in public interest.For the latest news and live updates, follow our LIVE blog