By pulling off this near impossible electoral feat, Vijayan has served the CPI(M), the electoral win it badly needed as Kerala is the only state it is in power. Elsewhere, the party has either been wiped out over a period of time or weakened after the surge of BJP and other regional parties.
That the UDF, which won 19 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections with a 47.5% vote-share, failed to keep that momentum was its greatest undoing. The duo of Pinarayi-Shailaja Teacher, the health minister, bounced back with constructive pro-poor schemes in the following year when the Covid-19 pandemic singed the state. The chief minister took to addressing hunger and essential needs of low-income families during the periods of intense and harsh lockdowns. The famous food-kit that the government gave included 17 essential items including tea power, cooking oil, and soap, indicating application of mind at the political level. The gesture clearly touched a chord with poor voters. It was now their turn to return the favour, which they did.
As the pandemic threatened to destroy people’s confidence, Kerala’s political leadership rose to the challenge, and took steps to control the surge. Last year, several districts in the state emerged as hotspots with international arrivals at its four airports turning the challenge all the more complex. Despite the tall challenges, the team led by Vijayan was to save many lives, both last year and now. As of April end, Kerala’s death rate from Covid was 0.3%, one of the lowest in India.
Unsurprisingly, the LDF swept in the recent local body polls, giving chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan a hint of which way the wind was blowing, and the confidence of a shot at another term. His reported direction to top bureaucrats to organize the swearing-in ceremony on Monday itself stems from this confidence.
In fact, the severe drubbing the LDF received in 2019 Lok Sabha elections had unnerved Vijayan a bit because the defeat was attributed to his regime’s mishandling of the issue over the entry of women into the famous temple of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala. In that election, the UDF had surged ahead of the LDF by a vote share of 11%, a big gap electorally speaking.
This win will not only further Vijayan’s iron grip over the party and affiliate organizations, but could push the rival Congress into serious soul searching. Two years ago, the chief minister had told ET that the Congress played second fiddle to the BJP in the Sabarimala case.
The stakes were high for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who represents Wayanad in the Lok Sabha. He led an aggressive campaign, and a win here would have meant silencing his critics within the party.
But as Pinarayi himself said on the day of voting last month, Lord Ayyappa is with him.