Updated: May 22, 2021 4:40:33 pm
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, whose new government took over charge on Thursday, talks to The Indian Express about the priorities of his government, the challenges it faces, and the CPI(M)’s political priorities at the national level.
How would you list the priorities of your new government?
The first Cabinet met soon after the swearing-in and got down to business and has approved a road map based on a 50-point programme and the manifesto which comprises 900 promises. After the Cabinet meeting, I presented important points which include elimination of acute poverty.
The government is committed to give solace and relief to the people during the pandemic as well as plan ahead to ensure that Kerala achieves the living standards of developed countries in 25 years. Specific committees have been formed with key officials to ensure implementation of various programmes that have been drawn up.
Apart from poverty alleviation, a separate committee has been constituted under the Chief Secretary to formulate a scheme that will ease the workload of homemakers (housewives) through a ‘Smart Kitchen Project’ and also protect the women engaged in domestic work. Generating employment for 20 lakh educated persons is another task we have taken up on ourselves.
When you went to elections, you and the party had decided not to allow a third term for anyone and kept some senior leaders off the candidates’ list. Was the decision to go for the new government entirely with the fresh faces part of it? What exactly is the message you want to convey with such a decision?
That was not a new decision. In fact it was there for long. But we could not implement it totally due to various factors.
This time, the party decided that this norm will be implemented without any exception considering various factors including the conducive political situation. The people of Kerala have accepted this and this is shown in the huge mandate.
The driving spirit behind this norm is to equip the party and the administration to face future challenges.
A person from Dalit community has been given the Devaswom portfolio. What is the message the CPI(M) is trying to convey?
K Radhakrishnan, a Central Committee member and a former minister who also served as the Speaker, has been made the Minister for Devaswom. He has been given the portfolio considering the fact that he is an appropriate person to hold the office.
As regards to the ‘Dalit’ issue, our government had taken a historic decision earlier to allow members of the Dalit community to be the priests in temples under Devaswom Board.
Are we to expect a more democratic approach in the running of temples under the Devaswom — like what is being suggested in Tamil Nadu by the new dispensation? Will it not be used by BJP to create fissures within the Hindufold?
BJP only has a communal agenda and the people of Kerala have rejected it. We have an effective model of running the temples with Devaswom Boards at the helm. It is to be noted that our government supported Devaswom Boards with huge assistance to run temples and develop pilgrim centres.
Will there be a review of the government’s approach viz-a-viz Sabarimala? Will your government again argue for allowing women of all ages or take a neutral stand and wait for the court verdict in the review petitions?
The Sabarimala case is in the Supreme Court. Let us all wait for the verdict. Vested interests want to whip up a frenzy and I would advise the media not to play second fiddle to such forces.
There is a criticism that as all the Left ministers are new faces, there is likelihood of over-concentration of power in the Chief Minister and his office…
On one hand, the media harps on about having fresh faces. At the same time, you allege that this will lead to concentration of powers. We have enough clarity on such matters. The new ministers are competent to discharge their responsibilities.
The move to drop K K Shailaja as health minister has drawn a lot of criticism for you and the party. What would you like to tell them? A number of people have pointed out that non-Left supporting voters backed your candidates as the LDF had promised continuity, which included Shailaja’s works during the pandemic…
Answers to your previous questions have dealt with this too. To bring new faces as MLAs and ministers was a decision taken by the party. I am glad that many including our adversaries are now in full praise of our efforts in the health sector. The very people who had ridiculed Shailaja Teacher are singing praise of her. All our initiatives are part of team work. And, an able and competent young woman has succeeded Shailaja Teacher. I would request all to stop the canards and support the government in its efforts to deal with the pandemic.
In the last term, actions of certain bureaucrats caused a negative image for the government. How will you keep the bureaucracy disciplined?
Bureaucracy, by and large, have been supportive of government initiatives. There could be isolated instances. But that happens everywhere. In any case, we are vigilant on such matters.
You are often referred to as the supreme leader of the party too. How will you ensure there is better and more consultation with the party?
The question springs up due to falsehood that is propagated and lack of knowledge about our party. The decisions of the government are according to the promises we have made to the people. The media wants to stereotype people and to create certain images. The people of Kerala can see through all these designs.
How will the government tide over the huge debt-trap the state is facing? How do you plan to fight the Centre’s efforts to delegitimize the work done by Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB)?
It is true that we are facing financial constraints. But that does not mean there is any debt trap. Despite the floods, Nipah, Okhi Cyclone and the pandemic, we were able to fulfil 570 promises out of 600 in our last manifesto. KIIFB is a means to ensure speedy implementation of various developmental projects enriching the State both on economic as well as social fronts. Even while invigorating our infrastructure projects, we also make it a point to modernise our schools. We do it on a vision to prepare Kerala to face the future world. It is unfortunate that various Agencies of the Centre have been working against KIFBI. We will deal with it both politically and legally. It is also curious to know that our KIFBI model has been copied at the Centre.
How does the economic impact of the second wave compare with the first wave?
It is challenging. But we are confident of tiding over the crisis. Our immediate concern is to mitigate the suffering of the people.
The amount apportioned for pandemic-related health spends and buying vaccines. To what extent does this impact your capital expenditure programme, and would this significantly impact the recovery spending?
We have put across our views to the Centre regarding vaccination. We feel that it is the obligation of the Centre to ensure free vaccination for the people. However, that will not deter us from discharging our promise to the people.
Would a hike in the fiscal limits help give visibility to states to borrow more for spending? The shortfall of GST revenues and the lack of clarity on how this will be bridged, is that also lowering the headroom for states to spend?
We have always raised our concerns regarding the revenue distribution between the Centre and the states. Unless states are economically propped up, the challenges staring at the country cannot be dealt with. Many slogans like “Affluent states, strong Centre” have been raised in the past. But in effect, states have been given a raw deal. We have, many a time, submitted our proposal as to how the resource position of the States can be improved.
With a dilapidated Congress and disunity among opposition parties, how is the BJP going to be countered at the national level? Counting on the big show of resistance in Bengal, is it a possibility that the opposition can come together under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee?
Our perspective with regard to national policies is very clear. Our prime objective is to ensure the defeat of the BJP, which has a divisive agenda. The recent elections certainly underline our point that there are forces which can take on BJP. We do hope that there will be movements in that direction at the national level too.