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Challenges before the new Kerala CM
George Iype in Thiruvananthapuram | August 31, 2004 22:48 IST
When Oommen Chandy, who was sworn in as the 19th chief minister of Kerala on Tuesday, gets down to the task of governing the state, he will have to turn the government's focus back on development plans.
For nearly a year now, the infighting within the Congress had eroded chief minister A K Antony's authority.
And 61-year-old Chandy, Antony's good friend, is only too aware of the hard days ahead. No wonder then hours before he took charge, he drove to his hometown in Kottayam district to pray at his beloved St George Orthodox Church and also seek his 84-year old mother's blessings.
Congress and Left leaders agree in unison that the new chief minister has nothing to be happy about. The state attracted little investment in the three years that A K Antony led the United Democratic Front government and the coffers are virtually empty.
The state's education sector is in a mess with the Left parties and influential church groups attacking the government. The Congress party itself is divided into at least four groups fighting amongst themselves.
"Yes, it is hard days ahead for Chandy but I am sure he will bring the government to the path of development," senior Congress leader and Tourism Minister K V Thomas in the Antony government told rediff.com.
Thomas says the Antony government had the right vision for Kerala. "We tried our best to make Kerala one of the finest states in the country. But we know it was not enough. The culture of violence, trade unionism and non-developmental agenda that the Left parties resort to has to end," he said.
Leaders like Thomas feel that the change in leadership and a reshuffle in the government besides a revamping of the Congress party in the state will have a telling effect on the coalition's fortunes.
Chandy's biggest advantage is that his strongest supporter now will be Antony himself.
Politically and personally, Chandy and Antony have been thick friends for decades. For many years, the mild-mannered Chandy has been Antony's right hand man, especially in the factional fights against the rival Congress group headed by former chief minister K Karunakaran.
Years back, Chandy played a crucial role in Antony's personal life too. When Antony continued with his political life without any thought of getting married, it was Chandy's wife, Mariamma, an officer with Canara Bank, who found a bride for him. The woman was her colleague Elizabeth. Antony was then 44.
The biggest task before Chandy, often described as the people's politician, is to set the Congress' house in order to ensure that the government does not suffer because of infighting.
The group headed by Karunakaran has been getting sidelined over the past few months. In July, Karunakaran was dropped from the Congress Working Committee and he could not even get an appointment to meet Sonia Gandhi.
Karunakaran now claims that his demand for a better government led to Antony's ouster. He expressed happiness over Chandy taking over as chief minister but no one is willing to bet that he won't start bickering again.
Reining in Karunakaran will be a major headache for Chandy.
At the same time, dropping ministers would lead to resentment.
Governance-wise, Chandy's biggest challenge would be to bring in a new investment and development-oriented culture in Kerala.
When Antony took over, he held a global investor meet but it had failed to attract significant investments as Antony's attention was diverted towards the Congress' internecine wars.
However, the UDF government had embarked on a few initiatives to set Kerala on the path of development. They include the construction of the country's first International Tran-shipment Terminal at Kochi and setting up of a chain of IT parks across the state. It has been wooing German carmaker BMW for some time now to set up a plant in the state.The direction that Chandy imparts to the government and the party will decide the Congress' prospects in the 2006 assembly elections.
More reports from Kerala