For decades, Kerala has been known for the adverse political climate it creates for development projects and especially entrepreneurial initiatives. Pinarayi kept up the traditional focus on education and basic infrastructure, but also tried to come out of the traditional dictums of Left thinking—refining the model in a way his old counterparts in West Bengal failed to do. That’s what caught the imagination of the decisive swing voters of Kerala. To the business community, he presented himself as a business-friendly leader, not a crusty Communist naysayer. It was the idea of an evolving, non-dogmatic political mind that allayed their fears. In sum, this was a move away from rigid Communist principles to the liberal social-democratic ethic that Kerala has fully absorbed in the 21st century. The robust socio-economic indices of its past, combined with the migratory history of its people, speak of a renovating society. And Pinarayi spoke to this new Kerala.
The Congress, meanwhile, suffered from a weak leadership and organisational structure—besides running a churlish, unimaginative campaign. Many voters felt the Opposition had not been sporting and constructive while raising alarm bells on issues like corruption. On a comparative analysis, it had no fabled leader who could outflank Pinarayi. Add to this the optics of Opposition visits to the offices of community leaders—even if caste and community politics are a reality, when seen against measurable action, these seemed like an open challenge to the wisdom of voters. The LDF took a very risky decision in replacing 34 sitting MLAs with new faces, but coherence at the top tamped down dissent. The Congress’s decision to field new faces, by contrast, was marred by prolonged camp fights. The BJP, meanwhile, bled itself with infighting all the way to a full crashlanding. This election also proves they are yet to understand their voter base in terms of the prevailing socio-economic sentiment. Fractious, negative politics scarred all three—Congress, IUML and BJP.
So Kerala has altered a basic pattern in its political history, giving an unprecedented second term to the incumbent. The Congress-led UDF allowed a degree of complacency to colour its strategy based on what it assumed was the entrenched DNA of Kerala’s voters. But Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s image as an able administrator in times of crisis helped the LDF break a jinx that many of his illustrious predecessors could not in the past. Natural calamities and health emergencies interrupted his reign, but crisis became opportunity—and skilful political communication did the rest. The CM’s daily press conferences allowed him a direct entry to the drawing rooms of millions in the shape of a responsive, answerable leader, in obvious contrast to what New Delhi has made the norm. But there were other factors in the LDF’s win that are not as readily acknowledged. To grasp this, one needs to revisit Kerala’s political history.
The results, nationally, show how the rooted political responses of regional party stalwarts matter. The onus is thus on both the Congress and IUML leadership to promote fresh voices. The old cabals must make way for young faces who can mount a challenge in ways that reflect Kerala’s changing aspirations. The central leadership’s responsibility is to encourage the local units to listen to workers on the ground rather than go by the whims and fancies of a coterie of influencers in Delhi. The base is not lost forever for any of them, but a real revival depends on how receptive their structure is to change. On that would hinge the question of finding a face for 2026.
Pinarayi’s second term bestows him with many opportunities. An expanded majority gives him space for stronger, better decision-making. The economy is in shackles, and demands bold action. He can push for more reforms and make Kerala investor-friendly, turning it into a competitive knowledge hub. The Left, at its peak now, will have internal challenges too—retaining inner party democracy will be a key one. Also, coping with the changing ethos of policymaking and the influence of national politics. Pinarayi has many opportunities and paths to choose from, and that could decide Kerala’s political discourse in the near and distant future.
The article was published in Outlook Magazine. Click here to read
Dr D Dhanuraj is Chairman at Centre for Public Policy Research. Views expressed by the authors are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.