Finally, External Affairs Ministry gives Pinarayi Vijayan nod to visit the US and communist Cuba

First Kerala CM to lead a delegation to Cuba, Vijayan plans to replicate the country's achievements in the health and education sectors.

ByK A Shaji

Published May 30, 2023 | 2:37 PM Updated May 30, 2023 | 2:37 PM

Pinarayi Marx

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Tuesday, 30 May, approved Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s request for visiting Cuba to learn about the giant strides it has made in its healthcare and education sectors.

Vijayan is scheduled to leave Kerala on 8 June, on a 10-day tour of the US and Cuba. He will be leading a delegation comprising ministers and senior officials to these two countries.

The MEA sanctioned Vijayan’s trip despite opposition by the BJP in the state. The ministry has also okayed Fisheries Minister Saji Cherian’s trip to the UAE.

The tour comes even as Kerala has been fuming over the Centre’s move, slashing the state’s borrowing limit.

Vijayan would inaugurate a meeting of the Loka Kerala Sabha (Global Kerala Assembly) in New York. The delegation would also hold talks with World Bank officials, seeking possibilities to avail new loans for infrastructure development.

The team would then head for Cuba, one of the few remaining communist nations, currently undergoing a severe financial crisis. Though communists EMS Namboodirippad, EK Nayanar and VS Achuthanandan have been chief ministers of Kerala, none of them visited Cuba.

Related: Do foreign trips achieve something, or are they mere junkets?

The itinerary

Assembly Speaker AN Shamsheer, Finance Minister KN Balagopal, State Planning Board vice-chairman VK Ramachandran, chief secretary VP Joy, Chief Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister KM Abraham, Officer on Special Duty (External Cooperation) Venu Rajamony, Principal Secretary of Industries Suman Billa, Finance (Resources) Secretary K Mohammed Y Safirulla, Staff Officer to Chief Secretary Snehil Kumar Singh, and VM Suneesh, Vijayan’s Personal Assistant, will be on the trip.

Norway

Pinarayi Vijayan addresses an investors’ meet in Norway. (File photo: CMO, Kerala)

When Vijayan and his team reach Cuba on 13 June, Health Minister Veena George and Tinku Biswal, Principal Secretary of the Health and Family Welfare Department, would join the delegation.

Kamala Vijayan, the chief minister’s wife, who is accompanying him, would meet her expenses.

​”Vijayan is visiting Cuba even as people there are fleeing the country due to the socio-economic crisis it has been facing ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union.​ On the other hand, Kerala is also turning bankrupt,” G Pramod Kumar, a former United Nations Development Programme officer, said a couple of weeks ago.

​But the CPI(M) leadership felt that Vijayan’s Cuba visit would help Kerala in the health and education sectors.

Vijayan would also attempt to forge greater cooperation between Cuba and Kerala in sports, and the possibility of getting Cuban coaches to instruct the state’s sportspersons would also be probed.

Related: Why Vijayan’s Cuba trip via US is generating much interest in Kerala

Centre on foreign trips

The Centre’s stand​ has been that political executives and even officials should travel overseas only in​ ​unavoidable circumstances.

Chief_Minister_Pinarayi_Vijayan_2023.tif

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. (Sourced)

As per the Union Finance​ ​Ministry’s guidelines for officials and ministers for foreign trips,​ ​participation of even the officials in international fairs,​ ​exhibitions, workshops and conferences should be​ ​discouraged.​ However, this time the ministry allowed the journey because of extreme pressure.

Earlier, the Union government had denied Vijayan permission to visit the UAE. The chief minister kept quiet, despite being a critic of the BJP and the RSS.

​For the UAE trip, the government had a nine-member delegation​ , including Ministers P Rajeeve, PA Muhammad Riyas, and Chief Secretary VP Joy​.

​In the meantime, the Congress-led Opposition UDF termed Vijayan’s foreign visits as leisure trips when the state is in the throes of a financial crisis.

​Last October, Vijayan, some of his Cabinet colleagues, and senior officials, including the state’s chief secretary, left for a visit to European and Gulf nations for 10 days. Vijayan’s wife, daughter and grandson ​had also accompanied him on the trip.

General Education Minister V Sivankutty and his wife R Parvathy Devi accompanied the chief minister.

Earlier, Opposition leader VD Satheesan had said such trips should be more transparent. He also called for clarity on the purpose of those travelling with the chief minister.

Related: Saga of Kerala’s ₹2 crore junket to Israel

A challenge to CPI(M)

Satheesan also challenged the government to detail the benefits to the state from the chief minister and other ministers’ foreign trips.

Wife

Achuthanandan with his wife. He travelled overseas only once when he was the chief minister. (File photo/Supplied)

The CPI(M) did not take up the challenge. Instead, senior party leader and former minister AK Balan made a countercharge that a minister in the former Congress ministry had made 23 foreign trips.

During Vijayan’s two terms in office till now, the ministers have undertaken 85 foreign trips.

According to the General Administration Department data, Vijayan has undertaken 16 major foreign trips, including the latest one to Norway, Finland, the UK, and Dubai.

Former tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran came second to Vijayan with 13 foreign trips, while former industry minister EP Jayarajan was in a distant third with seven visits.

The countries Vijayan visited included Japan, South Korea, the US, the UAE, France, and Switzerland. On most foreign trips, he was accompanied by his wife, daughter and grandchild.

Vijayan’s predecessor and Congress party veteran Oommen Chandy travelled abroad only three times during his five-year tenure as chief minister — and those visits were to the Gulf countries at the invitation of the Malayali communities there.

Vijayan’s senior party colleague and bete noire, Achuthanandan, went overseas once when he was chief minister.

Referring to the criticism that he was engaged in a family outing using government funds, Vijayan had said that his relatives accompanying him were meeting their expenses and not using government funds.

According to a highly placed source in the Chief Minister’s Office, who preferred anonymity, the chief minister’s official visits to Japan and South Korea involved several investment discussions — none fructified.

“The chief minister and some Cabinet colleagues have gone abroad with their families​ many years ago​. It would not be a crime to seek clarity and transparency in such actions from the ministers. It’s indeed a bad precedent,” Satheesan had told South First earlier.​

​”We all have the right to know how this foreign jaunt will benefit Kerala. I knew only through the media about the Loka Kerala Sabha programme in New York,” he said.