Kerala’s popular culture has often painted Pinarayi Vijayan as a hardliner who runs the party with a firm hand; a person who doesn’t quite believe in display of emotions.
For a staunch CPM activist, the 72-year-old leader is, simply, a resolute communist, who has come up the hard way.
The call-up to the chief minister’s job comes after his 17-year stint as the CPM’s state secretary. His tenure saw the party facing huge setbacks, including controversies around the killing of communist rebel TP Chandrasekharan in 2012. He also had to deal with factionalism – veteran VS Achuthanandan was at the other end – which threatened to derail the party’s unity.
Born on March 21, 1944, in Pinarayi in Kannur district to Mundayil Koran – a toddy tapper – and Kalyani, Pinarayi entered politics through students’ movements. At age 28, he was a member of the CPM’s Kannur district secretariat.
Elected as an MLA for the first time in 1970, Pinarayi was tortured in police custody during the Emergency. He later made a speech in the Legislative Assembly, displaying his blood-stained shirt he wore during the torture. Vijayan was elected as a legislator four times, in 1970, 1977, 1991 and 1996.
His stint as the minister for power in the E K Nayanar-led government in 1996 is widely rated as one of the best in the state’s history of power generation. In 1998, following the death of Chadayan Govindan, Pinarayi was appointed state secretary of the party; he continued in the position till 2015.
As a party strongman, Pinarayi has not been a face of appeasement politics; he didn’t mince words when he took on rivals or the media. As the chief minister, he could be in for a makeover. There are visible attempts, including an active social media presence, which point to a “softening” of image.
Pinarayi’s supporters maintain that he was hounded over “baseless” charges in connection with the SNC-Lavalin graft case. The charges of corruption in an agreement with the Canadian company for modernising three hydel projects had, in effect, held him backstage in electoral politics. Pinarayi’s acquittal in the case had virtually cleared the decks for what his backers call an inevitable rise to the chief minister’s chair.
From rags to riches
Worked as a handloom weaver for a year before joining Pre-university course
Entered politics through student union activities
Joining Communist Party in 1964
Imprisoned for one-and-a half years for political activities
Arrested ruing the Emergency