Kerala voted for a change. The CPM-led Left Democratic Front has sought to meet the expectations of the people by reducing the strength of the ministry from 21 to 19 as a measure of austerity and keeping off most of the old faces they are familiar with.
The LDF won the 16 May assembly polls, winning 91 of 140 seats in the state assembly. The Congress-led United Democratic Front was ousted, in keeping with the state’s four-decades-old history of throwing out the incumbent governments.The ministry being sworn in later in the evening will have as many as 13 new faces. Of the total 19 ministers, CPM will have 12, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Communist Party of India (CPI) four, Janata Dal (S), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress (S) one each.
Barring Thomas Isaac, A K Balan and G Sudhakaran, who were members of the 2006-11 cabinet headed by V S Achuthanandan, the remaining eight ministers of the CPM are new faces. They are EP Jayarajan, KK Shailaja, TP Ramakrishnan, Kadakampally Surendran, AC Moitheen, J Mercykutty Amma, Prof C Raveendranath and Dr KT Jaleel.
All CPI ministers are new faces — E Chandrasekharan, VS Sunil Kumar, P Thilothaman and K Raju. C Divakaran and Mullakara Ratnakaran, who were ministers in the last LDF ministry, were denied berth this time as part of the party’s decision to induct fresh blood.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which has two members in the assembly, has picked up AK Saseendran, who never got a chance to become a minister despite four terms in the assembly. The Janata Dal (Secular), which got two former ministers elected this time, opted for relatively young Mathew T Thomas, who had one innings in the 2006 Achuthanandan ministry.
Ramachandran Kadannapally, who handled sports portfolio in the 1987-1991 Nayanar-ministry, could find a place in the new ministry as he is the only member of his party in the assembly.
The speaker and deputy speaker will also be new faces. While P Sreeramakrishnan of the CPM will be the speaker, P Sashi of the CPI will be the deputy speaker.
Though the CPM completed the selection of ministers, including the chief minister without any hiccup, the CPI had to face strong resistance from the old guards. Smaller parties like the Janata Dal (S) and the NCP needed their parties’ intervention to pick up their nominees.
Though C Divakaran and Mullakkara Ratnakaran initially revolted, they came to terms with reality after failing to muster enough support in the state council that approved the list presented by the state executive.
Though everybody expected problems in the CPM with Achuthanandan staking claim for the post of the chief minister, Vijayan’s elevation was a relatively smooth affair. After he realized that the central leadership of the party was not with him, the 92-year-old veteran graciously stepped aside.
However, he has hinted at a rough sail for the new government. Though the party tried to put him in a corner by calling him ‘Fidel Castro’, the former chief minister has vowed to serve as a ‘sentinel of the people’. This is considered as a recipe for trouble since there is no meeting the eyes between him and the chief minister.
While Vijayan is considered as a pragmatist, Achuthanandan is a hardliner who sticks to the party ideology. Known for his realistic approach, Pinarayi is often referred to as the ‘Deng of Kerala’, who is ready to put globalisation to use for the development of the state.
The two had run into collision course during the last term of the LDF government when Vijayan tried to push several mega projects as party secretary. However, Achuthanandan put all the projects in the cold storage, leading to intensification of the mutual rivalry between the two.
Apart from the critical stance of Achuthanandan, Pinarayi also faces huge challenges ahead. The state’s coffers are almost empty with the outgoing government using all avenues of resources to fund a few mega projects. This has also left the state with a huge debt burden.
Thomas Isaac, who is likely to be the finance minister, has already warned that he may have to impose new taxes to implement LDF’s election promises which include health for all, house for all and food for all.
Another major challenge faced by the government is political violence.
The outbreak of the violence after the election has already put the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the offensive. Any failure to curb the violence may affect the government’s relations with the Central government headed by the BJP.
BJP president Amit Shah and couple of ministers have already warned the CPM that they will not tolerate any further attack on their cadres. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has also asked the CPM to remember that it was BJP that is ruling the country.
Political observers view this as a threat to the new government. They believe that the Union government may not even hesitate to deploy central forces if the CPM-led government fails to maintain law and order in the state.
The state government cannot afford to antagonise the Centre as it needs its help to steer the state to the path of development as envisaged by the LDF. However, the ruling front is in no mood to soften its approach towards the BJP. It has decided to counter the BJP offensive by observing 27 May as ‘Protest Day’.