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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

To return to power, Kerala CPM banks on ‘Visual Vijayan Vote’

Kerala elections: The cumulative daily build-up of a reassuring chief-in-charge is what the party banks on as the state votes on April 6.

Written by E P Unny | Kottayam |
Updated: March 25, 2021 7:03:21 am
CM Pinarayi Vijayan at Kottayam press meet (Illustration on campaign trail by E P Unny)

At the press meet in Kottayam, Kerala’s most visible political face is doing what he is best at – telling the media what exactly he wants to do. Not a word more, not a syllable less. The clinically controlled delivery is nothing new to those who have watched this 77-year-old stalwart of both party and government.

What is new is that the state’s laidback TV viewers have taken to the measured tone. Over the last one year, since the outbreak of the pandemic in March, Vijayan was on TV at 6 pm on weekdays, giving a methodical account of the day’s Covid situation. Malayalam news channels saw viewerships soar to entertainment channel highs.

Party insiders expect a corresponding voter response, notably from women. The cumulative daily build-up of a reassuring chief-in-charge is what the party banks on as the state votes on April 6. Called ‘triple V’ (Visual Vijayan Vote), this is crucial to an election that cannot be taken for granted. You can never rule out the Congress which under Rahul Gandhi scored an upset win in the last Lok Sabha polls. The BJP-led third front is out to win seats and become kingmaker.

Further, Vijayan is asking for a rerun, a departure from four decades of alternating regimes. He hasn’t made the task any easier for himself by junking proven talent and picking young and middling newcomers as candidates.

The campaign package is the familiar list of welfare measures and developmental schemes well begun and half done. “Give me another term to complete the tasks,” the CM seeks of the voters.

At public meetings in Pala and Vaikom, the voice is more persuasive than aggressive and it comes filtered through the mask which is on throughout the public appearance.

Illustrations on campaign trail by E P Unny

He is at his tactful best in Pala, the home turf of the Kerala Congress, who till the other day was a Congress ally. Led by Jose K Mani, the regional outfit crossed over to the rival Left in the run-up to the polls. The Marxian baptism of an aspirational, entrepreneurial party of Christian believers is on test here. Vijayan extends active religious respect, a big leap from passive tolerance. He also drops names that should cut across to the crowd that looks more parental than young. “TCS and Ernst & Young will bring jobs and prosperity”.

The tone shifts from capital to social in Vaikom before a packed auditorium next to the Shiva Temple known for the historic struggle of the oppressed castes for temple entry. The day’s campaign ends amidst milling crowds back in Kottayam.

“Voters are in no mood to do content analysis of campaign-speak,” chips in a local pundit. “Instead, what would work is the new Visual Vijayan.” He recounts a Kottayam story in support.

The Marxist poll campaign put a face to the name for the first time here in 1984. Till then, you could only display the party symbol and the candidate’s name. Fresh out of law college and SFI’s state president then, Suresh Kurup was the candidate for Lok Sabha from Kottayam.

His friend and comrade C P John, who managed the uphill campaign, somehow slipped in a photograph of the candidate on poll posters – blasphemous personality projection in party circles. Half way through the campaign, Indira Gandhi was assassinated and the sympathy wave swept away all rivals of the Congress, except Suresh. If this is what a black & white picture could do then, let us wait for the serial effect of full-scale television.

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