Pinarayi Vijayan and his problem with the media have been well accounted since the time he took office as the Chief Minister of Kerala writes Sanu George.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan remains the tough guy of the State's politics unlike his predecessors, who rarely lost their cool even in difficult situations. His agony and apathy seem to reflect on to the forefront more frequently than expected, much to the ire of those who stand against him.
His "get out" direction to the photo-journalists last Monday from the room where he was to meet BJP and Sangh leaders on Kannur violence only symbolises the style of the CPI-M leader. Even though his frustration could be attached to the current condition in Kerala, where RSS-CPI(M) face offs have yet again emerged as disruptive forces in civil society, his attitude, many would say has more to do with his demeanour than with the ground conditions of the State.
In the last 14 months as Chief Minister and close to a decade as the supremo of the CPI-M in Kerala, 73-year-old Vijayan has spared no one —be it a Christian bishop, one of the State's most decorated editors, bureaucrats, leading opposition politicians, his senior party colleague VS Achuthanandan and last, but not the least, the media. His sheer ire and apathy have been extended to all who have stood in his path, and often rightfully so; yet often, not always.
Many expected that on becoming Chief Minister, replacing the ever-smiling Oommen Chandy, Vijayan would mellow down to a certain degree. That, however, did not happen, and given what one has seen in the past 14-months, it is unlikely that there is going to be a change anytime soon. One reason why Vijayan's tactics hit the headlines is that he has always kept the media at an arm's length, unlike his legendary party colleague and Kerala's longest-serving Chief Minister, the late E.K. Nayanar.
What Nayanar had, and Vijayan does not have, is the rustic humour that he employed to get away from tricky situations — situations that were often created by Nayanar's own loose tongue —and he used it very effectively whenever he hit a rough patch. Even though Nayanar had several brushes with the media, he, for some reason, was able to get away with them, but with Vijayan, this has not been the case. One of the things that Vijayan would quite often say during his later period as the state Secretary of the party was that a "media syndicate" was working in the state capital and he was their target — even as it delivered bouquets to his arch rival and then Chief Minister Achuthanandan.
Knowing very well that Vijayan is someone who cannot be diplomatic or change the way he conducts himself, the national leadership astutely asked the most popular politician in the state then— Achuthanandan— to lead the election campaign last year.
And after the veteran got the job done, when Chandy and the Congress-led United Democratic Front— which was eyeing a successive term—received a drubbing at the hustings, Vijayan took centre stage in a flash, relegating Achuthanandan with just a title— Kerala's Castro.
His tough stance towards the media was evident right from day one and, as a first step, he ensured that he would speak to journalists only when he wanted and not the other way round. His antipathy (not even apathy) towards the media became clearer when he cancelled the customary weekly post-cabinet meeting briefing that had been the practice for several decades and called for a briefing at a time and periodicity decided only by him.
On Monday, Vijayan yet again exhibited his tough stance towards the media when he angrily asked journalists to "get out" from a hall when they came to take the opening visuals of a peace meeting of the CPI-M leadership with BJP/RSS leaders. He not only turned his ire against the media but also against his own party Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who tried to calm him down.
Those who know Vijayan, however, are not surprised as this is the way he has always behaved, and it remains to be seen how far and how long he will be able to carry on with this tough posture. Though given the volatility in Kerala at this point in time, being tough would be the right way ahead; yet, sparing journalists would be a consideration that he could make. After all, in times of need, it is the media who will take his story to the world.ians
(Sanu George is a Kerala-based journalist. The views expressed are personal.)