Thiruvananthpuram: Though it came to power on a wafer thin majority, the Congress-led UDF ministry headed by Oommen Chandy appears to be on a sure footing as it enters its second year at power. The government has weathered many political storms and strengthened investment prospects of the state.
A popular Congress leader and central player in Kerala politics, 68-year-old Chandy assumed office on May 18 last year after the coalition unseated the CPI(M)-led LDF, securing a slender majority of 72 MLAs in the 140-member state assembly.
Considering the thin margin, scepticism was then rampant about the ministry's longevity. But right from the start Mr Chandy exuded confidence that he would be able to carry on as it is not the majority but the performance that counts.
Though in Kerala's highly politicised scenario, the LDF has never lost any chance to prick UDF claims of high performance, Mr Chandy passed a major political test when the UDF won the Piravom assembly by-poll by a comfortable margin a few months back.
As it enters the second year, UDF faces another challenge in the form of assembly by-poll from Neyyattinkara in Thiruvananthapuram district, caused by resignation of CPI(M) MLA R Selvaraj in March. Mr Selvaraj stunned CPI(M) by quitting the party and the assembly membership and back in the fray as the UDF candidate by joining the Congress.
LDF, which took up the fight that government's claims would be exposed, seems on the defensive at Neyyattinkara after CPI(M) came under a cloud in the wake of the murder of Marxist rebel and RMP leader TP Chandrasekharan
Observers feel that if UDF wins the seat, it will certainly be a feather on Mr Chandy's cap and would further consolidate his position.
Known for hard work and energy charged with optimism, Mr Chandy has reached every corner of the state. 'His 'mass contact' program has reportedly brought relief to thousands of common people.
A sense of urgency marked the ministry's performance on development and it has initiated work on some major projects like Kochi Metro and impart momentum to long-delayed SmartCity IT park and Kannur international airport.
The flare up of sentiments over the Mullaperiyar Dam issue, however, preoccupied the Government for some months last year before it cooled down, pinning hope on the outcome of the Supreme Court Empowered Committee recommendations.
Unlike some of his colleagues, Mr Chandy does not believe that the panel report is against the interests of Kerala.
UDF was not without its moments of image crisis during the year over issues like insistence of Indian Union Muslim League for a fifth ministerial berth, a demand which met with stiff opposition from the Congress itself, which maintained that it would upset the 'communal balance' of the ministry.
Critics in Congress then argued that giving another cabinet berth to IUML (Indian Union Muslim League) would send wrong signals to the Hindu community as Christians and Muslims are already dominating the ministry.
Mr Chandy, however, had to concede the demand from the key ally but effected some changes in the portfolios of Congress ministers, himself giving up the vital Home department, which the opposition dubbed as a proof of the communal appeasement of the UDF.
When it journeys into its second year, the mood seems to be upbeat in the UDF and the government looks keen to move forward with its slogan of fast-paced development without compromising the welfare of the less privileged.
"I am fully satisfied with the ministry's performance. We have been able to push the agenda of development and welfare of the common people. In this process, I have received total support from the Congress party and Front partners," Mr Chandy said on the eve of the anniversary.
However, the LDF disagreed with his claim. LDF leaders hold that many of the pro-people policies and programmes put in place by the previous Achuthanandan government have been 'sabotaged' by the UDF after coming to power.
The Government is planning to hold a major investment meet later this year to woo entrepreneurs to the state on diverse sectors, including infrastructure, IT and tourism.
The campaign, titled 'Emerging Kerala', is set to project the state as an ideal investment destination of great inherent strength.