Pinarayi 2.0 | Kerala Cabinet formation reflects CPI(M) decision-making


Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan hails from Kannur, in the north of the state. Kannur is known for circus and football. However, it seems Vijayan loves cricket more than football, and likes to be the ‘Captain’ who selects his team and decides their fielding positions. This is reflected in the ministers’ selection in Pinarayi 2.0, which would assume office on May 20.

The many surprises in the team with a few pinch hitters could be solely attributed to the Captain’s decision, and not of the selectors (the Communist Party of India (Marxist) committee). The selectors here were happy to oblige the Captain as he has won plaudits and a second term for the Left Democratic Front (LDF). Vijayan’s first term has solidified the Left’s base in the state, boosted the morale of the cadre across the state and brought to the front a lot of young leaders/future leaders — all this while his government has been an atypical Left government where it is seen that one leader is more powerful than the party’s state machinery.

There is a political message Vijayan gives to the public and his opponents by choosing a team of freshers for the Cabinet in the second term. He is consolidating his position in the party and is becoming the ultimate decision-maker — and is likely to remain so for a few more years. The state and central committees of the CPI(M) have fallen in line with Vijayan. Even the decision to drop KK Shailaja, a popular health minister recognised globally for her leadership during the Nipah and COVID-19 outbreaks, was not contested in the committee, allegedly because the decision and its explanation came from the Captain himself. This, despite the fact that Shailaja won with the highest majority ever (60,000-plus votes), and was a ‘star campaigner’ for the party.

It is interesting that the party while campaigning for the polls went out with the message to ‘vote for continuity’, but except for Vijayan none from the CPI(M) have got a second term as minister.

He has meticulously checked the caste and community equations while choosing his new team. By selecting a relatively young squad in his Cabinet and the successful formula of fielding new faces in the elections, Vijayan will go down in history as the one who engineered a generational shift in Kerala politics in the 21st century.

The Chief Minister’s Office will be a more powerful institution this time than it was during the previous term. The lieutenants he has chosen could toe his line of practical wisdom immersed in efficiency and strong decision-making. Some of them have experience in parliamentary politics and local government administration. Whether the Captain will encourage them to play their natural game and stroke play is something one has to wait and watch.

Grooming the new set of leaders is essential and it is here that Vijayan will play a decisive role. By not bringing any tainted leaders/ministers from the previous term to any key positions this time, the Chief Minister has conveyed his intolerance towards corruption. This is an important message he sends out to not just the CPI(M), but to the allies in the LDF as well.

Kerala’s is debt-driven economy. With COVID-19 the economic and fiscal challenges have become unprecedented. The global shifts in the post-COVID-19 world will have tremendous influence on Kerala’s economy. To lift the state from a debt trap prudent financial management and private investments which will lead to employment generation is what is required.

To ride out this storm Kerala would require a visionary leadership and a liberal approach to the economy. One factor that will work in favour of the new Cabinet is that it is not caught in the vicious web of conventional administrative wisdom, and Pinarayi 2.0 can start with a relatively clean slate.

For the Opposition this change in the ruling coalition must serve as a wake-up call to get its house in order. The writing on the wall is clear — the old guard must make way for a young leadership to come up. For the Congress this has now become more than an organisation rejig — it has become a matter of political survival.

Pinarayi 2.0 will be offering an interesting case study of ‘Norms Vs Authority and Charismatic Leadership’ in the Weberian framework (The Three Types of Legitimate Rule, Max Weber 1958). It is not magnanimity and humility, but the ultimate power struggle in the ruling party that will determine god’s own country’s political and governance discourse in the coming decades.