The CPM’s decision to have Pinarayi Vijayan, 72, lead the new Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala marks a major transition in the state’s politics. VS, as Achuthanandan, the party’s popular face for two decades is known, led the LDF campaign. But the CPM leadership felt he was too old at 92 to face the rigours of running a government. VS appears to have accepted the decision and conceded the right to the chief minister’s office to his rival in the party, Vijayan. CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, with VS beside him, referred to the senior leader as Kerala’s Fidel Castro and assured his well-wishers that he would guide the party in the manner the Cuban leader does in his country. Though the general secretary did not divulge the manner and form the “guidance” would take, a silent VS appeared to endorse his leader. The moment was poignant, as the veteran, who had just won the election for the party, made way for a younger man.
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But will this old general fade away? For nearly eight decades, VS has only done politics. He joined the CPI in his teens and made a name organising factory workers and peasants. When the CPI split, he was one of the 32 national council members who walked out of the party to form the CPM. He entered electoral politics in the 1960s, but continued in the organisational front, rising to the position of state chief in 1980. He moved from party work to overnment in the 1990s, but the stern apparatchik found himself to be out of sync with the masses. Then, in a remarkable makeover, the 70-plus VS reinvented himself as a mass leader by adopting a populist political idiom. He turned into a crusader against corruption, espoused environment causes and sided with marginal struggles. His lonesome forays often compromised the party line, but endeared him to the cadres and many outside the party fold. These ordinary people have been his real constituency; they have ensured that he wins factional battles and restrained the party from initiating drastic disciplinary action when he veered from the party line.
Vijayan, who has the reputation of being an efficient administrator, needs to keep VS on his side, if not for running the government, at least to manage perceptions about it. Yechury may have accomplished the first step of persuading VS, the state party now needs to follow. That’s one way of doing justice to the 2016 verdict.