Pinarayi Vijayan: A hard taskmaster and a ‘feared’ politician

Pinarayi-Vijayan-profile Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
  • Vijayan, 72, is perhaps the only party leader in the southern state in recent years to have had a complete control over the party for 16 years till he stepped down from the post of state secretary last year.

A CPI(M) strongman, Pinarayi Vijayan, who hails from a poor toddy tapper’s family, has earned the reputation of being a hard taskmaster and an organisation man to the core and is probably the most feared politician of Kerala.

Vijayan, 72, is perhaps the only party leader in the southern state in recent years to have had a complete control over the party for 16 years till he stepped down from the post of state secretary last year.

Popularly known as ‘Pinarayi’, he pipped his bitter rival V.S. Achuthanandan to become the chief minister not withstanding the spirited campaign by the 93-year-old leader to ensure the Left’s victory in the Assembly elections in Kerala.

The CPI(M) leader is a party Politburo member who belongs to the politically dominant Thiyya community like his party rival Achuthanandan, who is an Ezhava from South Kerala.

A man of few words, he proved his organisational capability in the state during his stint as state secretary. He had a short stint as the state’s power Minister during 1996-1998. The cloud of a graft case in connection with awarding of contract to a Canadian company SNC-Lavalin for modernisation of three hydel projects during that period haunted him with his rivals using it to target him.

Vijayan has always maintained that it was a politically motivated case and there was no wrong doing. While his critics described him as a leader “with no smile on his face, and the most feared politician in Kerala”, his party rivals have often accused him of deviating from the party line.

During his rule as state secretary, the infighting in the party between Vijayan and his bete noire Achuthanandan came to the fore. His elevation to the Chief Minister’s chair is also seen as a victory in the bitter power struggle with Achuthanandan, a popular leader who campaigned extensively during the Assembly election and was in the race for the top post.

Vijayan was suspended from the Politburo in 2007 along with Achuthanandan after the two openly criticised each other through the media. Later they were reinstated in the politburo.

However, Achuthanandan was again dropped from the highest party body for breaching party discipline. Vijayan proved his mettle as an able administrator during his short stint as power minister in the LDF ministry headed by late E.K. Nayanar during the period 1996-1998.

During his tenure, the state witnessed a giant leap in power generation and distribution capacities due to the productive measures taken by him as a minister. Apart from the SNC-Lavalin case, the murder of RMP leader T.P. Chandrasekharan, a former CPI(M) leader, at Onjiyam in Kozhikode in 2012, when he was the party state secretary, dented Vijayan’s image.

Vijayan was born on March 21, 1944 to Mundayil Koran and Kalyani in Pinarayi in Kannur district, the place where the Communist movement in Kerala began. He became the Kannur district secretary of the Kerala Students Federation while studying for BA (Economics) in Brennen College in Thalassery and also worked as a handloom weaver after his schooling for a year before being able to continue his higher studies.

He went on to become its state secretary and, later, state president of the KSF. In 1968, at the age of 24, Vijayan even found a place in the Kannur district committee of the CPI(M). Two years later, the party gifted Vijayan a sure ticket at Koothuparambu and he became MLA at the age of 26.

Vijayan was elected to the state Legislative Assembly three times later in 1977, 1991 and 1996. He rose to prominence when he won in 1977 and again in 1991 from the same constituency. With better grip on the party, he became the CPI(M) district secretary in Kannur in 1978.

Vijayan, who took part in various agitations, was subjected to torture during the Emergency and during earlier agitations. He once recalled that six policemen continuously beat him on the night of September 28, 1975 till he fainted in the lockup.

After his release, he came to the Assembly and made a powerful speech holding up the blood–stained shirt he wore during the assault on him in the police lock-up. His speech attacking then Home Minister and senior Congress leader late K. Karunakaran was considered to be a glorious chapter in the legislative papers. Besides his wife, Vijayan has a son and a daughter.

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