Thiruvananthapuram: Rarely does the stern-faced Pinarayi Vijayan smile, making him look prickly and inaccessible. A makeover bid was on as he tried to mix with children and assorted groups. But while doing so he seemed to struggle for his normal face. Now, back in form, he does not labour to smile. Being cool and business-like, he braces for a five-year term as the Kerala CEO.
People close to him see him as the CEO, swift and stern in administration, just like he was as power minister in 1996-87 and as the party state secretary for 17 years from 1998 to 2015.
A member of the party politburo, Mr Vijayan has been a pragmatic Leftist. Be it in the campaign against factionalism or on the governance front, he has been a toughie. As the party secretary, he led a protracted campaign against factionalism, culminating in prominent dissident V.S. Achuthanandan making room for him as the next CM.
But there used to be an uncertain phase, whether he would ever be back in electoral politics. The Lavalin power contract case, in which he was an accused, prevented him from contesting in elections.
He stepped down as power minister and took over as the state party secretary in 1998 after the death of Chadayan Govindan.
On Thursday, he won Dharmadom with 36,905 votes in a Left landslide, similar to that in 2006, when Mr Achuthanandan rode a popularity wave, winning 98 seats for the LDF. Mr Achuthanandan was then 82, but today Mr Vijayan is much younger at 72.
Mr Vijayan was elected to the Assembly from Koothuparamba by a slender majority of 743 votes when he was 26. He won all subsequent election contests till 1977. For a decade since, he concentrated on organisational work. He was district secretary in the party citadel of Kannur and was later the state secretariat member. He broke that spell when he contested and took over as the power minister.
Born the son of toddy-tapper Mundayil Koran and Kalyani at Pinarayi in Parappuram, he did handloom weaving for a year to raise funds for college.
He graduated from the Government Brennen College in Thalassery and debuted in student politics by becoming the state secretary of the Kerala Students’ Federation and graduated as the state secretary of the Kerala State Youth Federation.
The most impressive story of his youth was his marshalling of the secular-spirited people to douse passions during Hindu-Muslim riots in Thalassery in 1970-71. Muslims in Thalassery have forever been grateful to the party for this intervention.
Mr Vijayan was in jail for one-and-a-half years during the Emergency and that steeled his resolve to fight authoritarianism through the ballot. He won Koothuparamba Assembly seat after the Emergency in 1977.
His short stint as power minister (1996-98) earned him kudos from modernising power production and distribution.
Mr Vijayan’s success as a minister was in taking the party and trade unions along in the power sector, which used to be marred by labour unrest. But this tenure also caught him off guard, when he initiated the process of a power contract with the Canadian company, SNC Lavalin, which burdened the exchequer and was criticised by the CAG. Mr Vijayan and co-accused were discharged by the trial court but a fresh case is pending in the high court.
Mr Vijayan is among the few politicians who answer the phone and call back if he had missed it. In office, he may not be like his predecessor, Mr Chandy, keeping the office open to all and sundry. But he will also not be like CPI(M) chief ministers E.K. Nayanar and Achuthanandan, who relied on aides to take decisions.
Though known to care for the cadre and in building them up, Mr Vijayan has friends across social sections. If not at party meetings, he takes time for meeting friends and for movies. But in public, he is the tough-looking party apparatchik.
The cadre adore Mr Vijayan because the he breathes and lives the CPM. Crowds like his no-nonsense approach to issues. He may not be a crowd-puller like Mr Achuthanandan, but his direct and blunt deliveries in earthy Kannur dialect have created a cult following.
His long innings as the State party secretary and his induction into the politburo, barely at 55 years, have made him popular beyond the Vindhyas.
Mr Achuthanandan has been perceived to take contrarian positions vis a vis the party but Mr Vijayan has always been with the party. One is the perpetual dissident, the other is the loyalist.
“Mr Vijayan never plays to the gallery. The party trusts him because he will not digress from the party’s basic tenets. He understands the needs of a progressive and secular State like Kerala,” says CPM State committee member M V Jayarajan....