Bengaluru: Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has formally launched four ambitious projects—building multi-storey complexes for housing the homeless, giving a face-lift to public hospitals, strengthening agriculture, and managing natural resources such as water and forests.
The projects, launched by a Left Front government that is barely five months old, could earn significant social capital for the chief minister and hold implications for the future of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which leads the government, analysts say.
The social welfare focus of the government was clear as early as in August, when Vijayan decided to reopen two major cashew factories that had been closed down by the previous government, restoring employment for 16,000 workers at one stroke.
The government also earned brownie points with the timely disbursement of around Rs3,200 crore in pensions during the Onam festival season, and wasting no time in approving Rs4,000 crore of projects towards developing the state’s core social and physical infrastructure.
Besides, its recent decision to increase subsidized food for the poor by 50% over the existing levels and construction of about 175,000 toilets within four months to make Kerala the first among the big states to claim open defecation-free (ODF) status were also praised by many quarters.
According to finance minister Thomas Isaac, the initiatives are part of the government’s attempts to revive the People’s Plan Campaign of the 1990s.
The People’s Plan Campaign, launched in 1996, was one of the first decisions by the then Left Front government. It brought laurels for Kerala by initiating large-scale rural development as well as decentralisation of powers. Over the years, analysts note that the deep political involvement of the party in the movement became key for Marxists to tighten their grip on the countryside and mobilize votes during elections.
“We have a programme for taking Kerala forward, not just redistribution alone but creation of new jobs and wealth in Kerala," Isaac said in an earlier interview.
Launching the four projects at a public event attended by high-profile personalities including governor P. Sathasivam, Vijayan said the projects are part of a mission to build a “Nava Kerala", or New Kerala, as promised in the election manifesto of the Left Front.
“The Mission is part of a developmental vision with people in the forefront. It will lead to achieving social justice along with mobilizing local development," he said in his speech in Malayalam.
Vijayan’s focus on social justice and welfare should be seen in the backdrop of his own ambition of carving a niche for himself in Kerala politics and his need to earn enough approval ratings before trying out his unconventional style of governance in full, says Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and pro vice chancellor of Jain University.
The social capital earned in this honeymoon period may come handy for him in future, says Shastri, because in many ways, Vijayan seems more of a liberal socialist than a Marxist.
“Welfare oriented governance has always been the USP of any left government. But like (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi, Vijayan is aware that in the beginning there will be whispered criticism on his unconventional moves and depending upon the approval ratings of the chief minister it would become more open. By then, he would want to fortify his position within the party and the government," said Shastri.
“It’s a combination of this and the fact that we live in an age of competitive projection of good governance by political leaders," he added.