For a leader as controversial, Pinarayi Vijayan seems to have had quite an image makeover as he waits to take over as Kerala’s next Chief Minister.
In a party that prides itself on being disciplinarian, the 72-year-old had been accused of graft when he was the state power minister between 1996 and 1998; was suspended from the Politburo, the CPM’s highest decision-making body, for a brief while in 2007; has had recurring feuds with V S Achuthanandan, the grand old man of Kerala CPM; and seen as a “man without a smile”.
In a deliberate attempt at an image reconstruction, Vijayan, in recent months, has made efforts to get close to the party workers and endear himself to the people. He had led a statewide tour and projected”a “new Kerala” under the Left Democratic Front (LDF), once the Front is in charge. That time, the people will now remind him, has come.
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Born on March 21, 1944, to toddy tapper Mundayil Koran at Pinarayi village of Kannur district, a communist stronghold in north Kerala, Vijayan grew almost in tandem with the Communist Party in the state. It was at Parapram, near Pinarayi, that a secret meeting was held in 1939 to formally start the Communist Party in the state.
He attended the local school but was forced to take a break after class X. The family did not have money. During this break, he worked at a bakery in Mysore, Karnataka, and later returned home to work as a handloom weaver. Studying economics in graduation at Government Brennen College, Thalassery, Vijayan got involved in active politics and joined the Kerala Student Federation (which later became the Student’s Federation of India, the student wing of the CPM), and went on to become its state secretary. Soon, he was in the state leadership of Kerala State Youth Federation, the earlier avatar of the Left youth outfit, DYFI.
In the late 1960s, several Communist leaders in Thalassery region drifted towards the radical Left and Naxal movement. Arayakkandy Achuthan, Vijayan’s mentor in his early days in the Communist movement, also veered towards Naxalism. Along with a few others, he was sacked from the party. Vijayan stepped up to fill the void.
Vijayan became a member of CPM’s Kannur district committee in 1968 — four years after the split in the Communist party and formation of the CPM. Two years later he was elected to the state Assembly from Koothuparamba constituency. He was 26.
He was reelected as MLA in 1977, 1991 and 1996 — as also this year. In 1996, he became a Cabinet minister for the first time. As power minister, he was seen as effective, but the short stint was marred by the SNC Lavalin deal, which later turned into a corruption case involving him. A CBI special court later acquitted him.
His big break came in 1986, when Vijayan was made CPM’s Kannur district secretary after veteran M V Raghavan’s expulsion over anti-party activities. Vijayan played a pivotal role in stemming the flow of party workers to Raghavan’s rebel outfit. In 1988, he became a state secretariat member, and CPM state secretary in 1998, after the death of incumbent Chadayan Govindan. It was a post he held for 16 years, until 2015 — a tenure that earned his laurels as a tough taskmaster and able organiser, and also some criticism.