Thiruvananthapuram: Just because chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan is enjoying a triumphant visit to the United States where his government was feted for its exceptional handling of the Nipah outbreak, do not expect him to make bold or dramatic announcements when he returns to the state on July 18.
No cabinet reshuffle is on the cards. At the most, the chief minister will re-induct close ally E P Jayarajan, out in the wilderness for nearly two years, into the cabinet.
The three ministers the party had blacklisted earlier – health minister K K Shylaja, education minister C Raveendranath, and minister for local self-governments K T Jaleel – had lately shown a commendable surge in performance, making it virtually impossible to remove them. (Shylaja who had earlier failed to contain dengue won the bigger war against Nipah; Raveendranath, though he looked lost in the first year, is now at the forefront of a classroom revolution in the state; and under Jaleel, the local bodies have managed to achieve record plan fund utilisation. The chief minister will have no choice but to ignore his failure to tackle the garbage menace.)
Not in mood for change
Labour minister T P Ramakrishnan has offered to step down citing bad health. If Ramakrishnan's long-standing request is finally considered, which looks likely as the chief minister is keen to limit his cabinet strength to 19, then Jayarajan will be the new minister in charge of excise and labour. Otherwise, the chief minister will hand over environment and non-resident Kerala affairs to Jayarajan. He is also expected to get back his position as the second most important man in the cabinet, a title now with A K Balan.
That the party is not in the mood for any radical change was evident in the superficial patch of gloss it had applied on the party secretariat recently. The vacancy created by the death of V V Dakshinamoorthy has been filled by two young members, Ernakulam district secretary P Rajeev and Kollam district secretary K N Balagopal. That was all. And status quo ruled.
Sulking Jayarajan and Pinarayi's showmanship
It was in October 2016 that Jayarajan, who was accused of nepotism, was dumped by Vijayan in a phenomenal show of political will; it was a refreshing contrast to the manner in which K M Mani and Oommen Chandy had hung on to power during the erstwhile UDF regime. In fact, it is Jayarajan's ouster alone that continues to provide some substance to Pinarayi's image as a no-nonsense strongman. It is another matter that the indecisive manner in which the chief minister let the Thomas Chandy affair drift undid much of what he had gained by booting out Jayarajan.
But now, a Jayarajan languishing in the sidelines, even after the High Court had quashed the case against him, does not augur well for the party. Jayarajan's is a decisive presence in Kannur. He is perhaps the leader most loved by the CPM cadre. With the Lok Sabha polls just a matter of months away, the party feels it is high time a leader of exceptional organisational skills is given adequate importance. A sulking Jayarajan, it is felt, can turn the party machinery in north Kerala a bit sluggish.
Cabinet's weakest link at the top
The CPM insiders feel that the LDF government, though has been doing commendably well in both the welfare and development fronts, is facing a 'perception crisis.' Ironically, this is mainly on account of the omissions and commissions of the home department under the chief minister. (There is also the charge that cultural affairs A K Balan, now the number two in the cabinet, had failed miserably to project a pro-woman stance in the recent controversy triggered by AMMA's sly move to reinstate actor Dileep, accused in 2107 actress attack case.)
There is a section within the party that wants the chief minister to shed himself of lesser responsibilities like running a department, and take on a leadership role. They conceive this role not as a confining one but a higher liberating role where he will not be sullied by mundane controversies. The running of the home department, it is felt, should be handed over to someone equally decisive and a close confidant, say a newly inducted Jayarajan.
The party has taken out the home portfolio from its chief minister before, from none other than E M S Namboodiripad. In 1957, after Namboodiripad began to ease into the job, the party, sensing that the chief minister was too caught up in home affairs, decided to hand over the home portfolio to Krishna Iyer. The party's logic then was that Namboodiripad was too important and valuable to be limited to a couple of portfolios; he should, in short, be left free to lead all the departments. (Soon, the Liberation Struggle broke out and the portfolio once again shifted hands, this time to C Achutha Menon.)
Pinarayi as Modi's biggest foe
The argument has now repeated itself. The CPM politburo, too, is said to have discussed the issue and wants the chief minister to take on a national role. It wants Pinarayi Vijayan, now that he is the undisputed leader of the party in its only remaining citadel in the country, to emerge as prime minister Narendra Modi's primary political opponent. This was why the party leadership forced Pinarayi, though he was cold to the idea initially, to visit Arvind Kejiriwal who was on a hunger strike against the Delhi lieutenant governor. As it turned out, a reluctant Pinarayi played second fiddle to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, an outcome the party leadership was not happy about.
For Pinarayi to transform into a national leader, he should first be washed clean of the local muck that has been splashed on him by the misdeeds of his police. But before he is sent to the laundry, the chief minister should first unhinge himself from the home department.
(Views expressed are personal)
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