In Kerala, the year 2016 belonged to 71-year-old Pinarayi Vijayan who breasted the tape ahead of popular party colleague and arch rival V.S. Achuthanandan in the race to be the Chief Minister — without even a whimper of protest from any quarter.
What needs to be noted is that Vijayan beat Achuthanandan even after the 93-year-old veteran emerged as the star campaigner for the CPI-M-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) during the assembly polls.
Throughout the campaign, the CPI-M never named its Chief Ministerial candidate and that made Vijayan’s ascendancy to the chair easy.
But when the job was done and the LDF trounced the sitting Oommen Chandy-led United Democratic Front (UDF), the national leadership swung into action. The veteran was sidelined, given a title — Kerala’s Fidel Castro — as a consolation and Vijayan was given the prized post that had eluded him in 2006.
The biggest advantage that Vijayan had when he took over was, by virtue of being the state CPI-M Secretary for 17 long years till 2015, he had the party and also the LDF coalition firmly under his control.
On account of this firm grip, Vijayan reigned supreme. He carefully picked up his team when it came to candidate selection for the polls and also when it came to selecting his cabinet, besides distributing ministerial portfolios.
It should be recalled that when Achuthanandan took oath in 2006, he tried his best to keep the prized Home and Vigilance portfolio. But it was divested from the then Chief Minister and given to Kodiyeri Balakrishnan — the present state Secretary of the party, who was Vijayan’s nominee.
Incidentally, when Vijayan was sworn in as the new Chief Minister, he kept the Home and Vigilance portfolio with him, showing he was firmly in control.
The first thing that Vijayan did after taking over was to keep the media at bay, unlike his predecessor Chandy.
As a result, the customary press briefing after the weekly cabinet meeting became defunct and he also worked out a strategy that allowed him to speak to the media only when he wished to do so — and not when the media wanted.
And when it came to governance, Vijayan, though not an experienced administrator, ensured that all major decisions had his concurrence and directed his cabinet ministers to always keep him in the loop.
To help him take crucial decisions he has two senior IAS officials and a few experts in key areas helping him out.
Vijayan also weathered smoothly one of the major storms that hit his government after Industries Minister E.P. Jayarajan was accused of bypassing rules and appointing his close relatives to key posts in state public sector undertakings.
Without allowing the situation to drift, Vijayan handled the resignation of his senior colleague and close aide.
But the coming months may pose a bigger challenge for him when the state revenue is feared to fall by around 40 per cent due to the demonetisation decision of the central government.
And a ghost of a hydel scam has been chasing him for too long. The SNC Lavalin corruption case is pending in the Kerala High Court and its verdict will be keenly watched after a CBI court here discharged Vijayan as one of the accused.
At the moment, the only worry that Vijayan has is if he is able to come out clean.