Road ahead not easy for new Kerala CM Vijayan

Thiruvananthapuram, May 22 : The road ahead for Pinarayi Vijayan as Kerala’s new chief minister may be bumpy even though the veteran Marxist rides a massive electoral mandate to rule the god’s own country.

Vijayan, 72, was announced as the state’s new chief minister to-be by Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Sitaram Yechury on Friday, scoring over CPI-M’s star campaigner 92-year-old V.S. Achuthanandan, who has ruled the state earlier.

Vijayan fended off the first challenge, smoothly though, as Achuthanandan and his supporters endorsed his candidature silently, like true disciplined soldiers of the party, without a murmur, or raising any voices of rebellion.

But the road ahead for Vijayan, one of the biggest rivals of Achuthanandan within the CPI-M, may not be as smooth.

And one of the biggest challenges that lies ahead would be curb to Kerala’s cult of political violence that raised its ugly head immediately after the assembly election results were announced — that gave the Left Democratic Front (LDF) the number one spot with 91 seats in the 140-member state assembly.

Two activists, one each from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the CPI-M, were killed in separate incidents of post-poll violence during victory celebrations of the LDF on Thursday and Friday.

BJP leaders on Friday petitioned President Pranab Mukherjee over the violent celebrations by communists during which their activists were allegedly targeted.

The onus of ensuring peace now lies with the new government.

Not only this, Vijayan also faces the daunting task of addressing the precarious finances and correcting the public distribution system in a state. Kerala has a whopping outstanding liabilities of over Rs.141,500 crore, which is over 28.5 percent of its gross domestic product.

The new government may face cash constraints for capital and development expenditures because just three expenditure heads — salaries, pensions and interest payments — are likely to consume over two-thirds of the state’s total budgeted revenue of Rs.84,000 crore for this fiscal.

The Left in its poll manifesto had alleged that the public distribution in the state is in shambles, and had promised to distribute 13 basic food items through state-run fair price shops with no price escalation for five years. The promise appears too difficult to keep in times of high inflation rates.

Vijayan will also have to re-look over 800 decisions of the previous government, taken just before the assembly elections were announced in March. His predecessor Oommen Chandy’s development plank was marred by scandals, including the solar scam and the bar bribery cases. The politically sensitive cases are under probe.

The new chief minister will also have to sort out the previous government’s liquor policy that allows bars in only 27 Kerala five-star hotels to serve alcohol. As a result, some 700 bars in the state shut their shops.

But the biggest challenge for the chief minister-to-be is his alleged personal shaky past. He was named by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as an accused in the SNC Lavalin multi-crore rupees scam when he was the state’s power minister in 1997.

The alleged hydroelectric scam surfaced after a contract between the government and the Canadian company was said to have caused a Rs.266-crore loss to the state.

A CBI court exonerated Vijayan in 2013. But the acquittal was challenged by the state government and the case is to come up in the Kerala High Court next month. The Congress, ousted from the power, is expected to rake up the issue to give some hiccups to the new chief minister.