Pinarayi Vijayan’s first ever victory in life was arguably in 1944, against infant mortality—of the 14 children born to agricultural worker Kalyani and toddy tapper Koran, only three survived to experience an impoverished childhood.
More than seven decades later, both Kerala and Vijayan, now the state’s chief minister, have come a long way. Kerala now has the country’s best human development indicators, and its infant mortality rate is almost at par with that of developed countries.
Kerala’s consistent investment in its social infrastructure meant it already had an advantage in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than half a million people around the world. For a state that reported India’s first Covid-19 case, back in January, it has succeeded in keeping its recovery rate high and death rate relatively low.
Kerala’s success was a result of not just the system but also the government working as it should: 76-year-old Vijayan and his government have earned international praise for their efficient, sensitive response to the crisis. Though he has a reputation for concentrating power in his own hands, Vijayan’s team of ministers, especially health minister K.K. Shailaja and, to a lesser extent, finance minister T.M. Thomas Isaac, have been in the news as well for their health management and financial relief packages, respectively.
In a country where both the central government and many other state governments have been moving towards centralisation of power, this is an achievement of sorts.
And yet, undoubtedly, it’s the first-time chief minister who has been in command throughout the crisis. With his governance credentials firmly established, Vijayan now faces a tough question: can the leader who presided over the Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) worst ever Lok Sabha performance in 2019 break Kerala’s historic record of never...