Thiruvananthapuram: The red flag of the Communist Party of India-Marxist is flying high in Kerala and Pinarayi Vijayan is in firm control of the affairs.Within hours of taking charge as the state's chief minister, the veteran Communist leader has etched the stamp of his authority on the government, giving plum cabinet berths to his chosen ones, and keeping the Home and Vigilance portfolios with himself.
Though poles apart, Vijayan is like Prime Minister Narendra Modi who too has the government and the party in his grip, say observers here. Vijayan was the CPI-M state secretary for 18 years till 2015. By the time he stepped down, he had the party under his control and was its unquestionable leader. Not surprising then that it was Vijayan who handpicked candidates for the 2016 Kerala assembly election. The rest is history -- the Left Democratic Front (LDF) won 91 seats in the 140-member assembly.
With Vijayan's ascendancy, V.S. Achuthanandan -- the old war horse and former chief minister -- has been edged out. The nonagenarian, who was hoping to be the chief minister, may be sulking now but he has to live with this reality: he is not the chosen one. His arch-rival Vijayan has had the last laugh in their bitter contest through the decades.
So how is Chief Minister Vijayan taking control in his hands? In selection of his cabinet colleagues, Vijayan has certainly ensured that he has the final word. Unlike the previous UDF government, when the portfolios were distributed on the basis of caste and religion, as demanded by the community leaders, Vijayan has ensured that the selection of ministers is not jolted by any such controversy. His message has been clear: he's the leader and others have to follow him.
While senior leader A.K. Balan was given less important portfolios, Vijayan banked on his trusted lieutenants even though they didn't have much of administrative experiences as ministers.
His closest aide T.P. Ramakrishnan got the excise ministry, E.P. Jayarajan has been given charge of the industries, A.C. Moideen got cooperation and tourism, K.T. Jaleel got local self government, Kadakampally Surendran has been put in charge of electricity, K.K. Shailaja is the health minister and C. Ravindranath is in charge of education.
To ensure his authority, Vijayan kept several top leaders out of the cabinet. These leaders include state secretariat member M.M. Mani, popular legislators Suresh Kurup and Raju Abraham, and former minister S. Sarma.As the Vijayan juggernaut rolled out, the allies in the LDF accepted his writ. Even the Communist Party of India -- the second largest ally -- had to remain content with whatever portfolios it was offered.
Vijayan has now directed his ministers that they have to remain present in their offices five days in a week. And the staff they would select for the ministries must be young and energetic, not anyone who's above 60 years of age.
The chief minister has also dropped a hint that the weekly media briefing after cabinet meeting may not be a regular affair anymore. In other words, the media may not have the chance to snoop on the government as it earlier used to. With these measures, Vijayan made it amply clear that he is the ultimate boss and there should not be any doubt about that.
Thus, the winds of change are certainly blowing in Kerala now. How strong they will be depends on how fast Vijayan manages to shake up the bureaucracy and the police. Once he achieves that, the 72-year-old son of a toddy tapper will be steering God's Own Country with his iron fist.