Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan made some key changes in his cabinet on Sunday, re-asserting his supremacy and proving that he would protect the image of his government at all costs.
The first cabinet reshuffle after the Left Democratic Front government came to power six months ago saw Vijayan roping in senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader MM Mani while closing the doors on EP Jayarajan, his former number 2 who was removed from the cabinet on charges of nepotism in October.
Mani, a member of the CPM state secretariat, will be handling the electricity portfolio and was sworn in on Tuesday.
Before the reshuffle was announced, there were rumours that Vijayan would bring back Jayarajan, who was sacked as minister for industries, commerce and sports after it came to light that he had got several of his relatives jobs in Public Sector Units.
Jayarajan was Vijayan’s right-hand man in the cabinet. The two men, who hail from the Kannur district – a CPM stronghold – had a rare bond.
However, Jayarajan began to court controversy soon after assuming office. In June, celebrated long jumper Anju Bobby George submitted a complaint to Vijayan claiming that Jayarajan had harassed and threatened her and other members of the Kerala Sports Council. This came days after the sports minister turned himself into an object of humour as well as criticism for describing the boxing legend Muhammad Ali as “an eminent sports personality of Kerala”.
Despite his removal, it was widely speculated that Jayarajan would make a comeback. The chief minister kept everyone guessing by keeping Jayarajan’s crucial portfolios with him for a month.
However, Vijayan’s decision to appoint Mani, a grassroots leader from Idduki, made it clear that the chief minister will not tolerate corruption and did not take regional factors into consideration while picking his team.
Jayarajan is said to be very unhappy with the turn of events and there were unconfirmed reports that the former sports minister walked out of the meeting where the decision was announced. He also offered to resign as CPM MLA from Mattanur constituency in Kannur.
The party leadership had considered many names before picking Mani for the job.
Elected from Udumbanchola constituency, Mani is the senior-most CPM member in the Legislative Assembly. A committed party member, he organised plantation workers in the hill district of Idukki before making his presence felt at the state level. He joined the CPM in 1966, at the age of 22 and worked in the party’s district committee for many years. In 1985, he was elevated to district secretary, a post he occupied till four years ago.
Like Jayarajan, Mani is a controversial figure and a fiery speaker, who has in earlier speeches attacked the CPM as well as Vijayan’s government.
While addressing a gathering in Thodpuzha in Idukki district in 2012, Mani alleged that the CPM had carried out political murders and killed three Congress leaders in the 1980s. The speech threatened to end his political career. He was removed as district secretary and was later arrested, spending spent 44 days in jail. The Supreme Court ruled against continuing the probe in the case and he was reinstated as the party’s district secretary in 2014.
Earlier this month, he attacked the Communist Party of India ministers in the Vijayan cabinet, claiming that they had no understanding about the ground realities.
However, on Sunday, Mani claimed he did not remember his tirade against CPI ministers. “I am happy that CPM honoured me by inducting me into the cabinet,” he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday. “It is only because I am a member of the CPM. No other bourgeoisie party would have recognised the efforts of a poor person like me.”
Political commentator NM Pearson said Mani’s appointment could be seen as a moral victory for the chief minister. “A majority of people expected that Jayarajan would come back as a minister once the heat and dust of corruption allegations settled down,” he said. “But Mani’s appointment will definitely dent Jayarajan’s chances.”