When Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inducted his son-in-law PA Mohammed Riyas into the Cabinet in 2021, it marked the beginning — according to critics — of a kind of dynasty politics in the ruling CPI(M).
However, Riyas — who holds the tourism and public works portfolios — was not airdropped into politics or the Cabinet. With years of political experience under his belt, he rose through the ranks and was the national president of the CPI(M)’s youth wing, the DYFI.
He married Vijayan’s daughter Veena in 2020.
Vijayan, meanwhile, has become the undisputed leader of both the government and CPI(M). This is something the party, which is used to having several stalwarts among its top leadership, is not familiar with. And Riyas has been referred to as the No 2 in the Cabinet, albeit unofficially.
Of late, Vijayan has been facing several allegations. Even his family members were not spared, and the CPI(M) has been going all out to defend him.
Alliance partners in the ruling LDF have not, and even some sections of the party itself have apparently not been as enthusiastic.
It is in this context that a recent statement by Riyas stands out. In an interview with a Malayalam news channel, he made a veiled attempt to remind other ministers of their moral and political responsibility to defend the chief minister.
Among the Cabinet ministers, only Riyas and Industries Minister P Rajeeve have been vociferously defending Vijayan.
‘Duty of ministers to defend CM’
“According to the party policy, ministers must talk politics. They must talk politics even while elaborating on the performance of their respective departments. No minister is above politics. Talking politics is their responsibility,” Riyas told Asianet News.
The message became clearer when Riyas warned others against becoming “image conscious” while the chief minister was being targeted.
“How can we trust and repose faith in ministers who fail to speak politics when the party and government are in crisis,” he asked.
“There is an organised attempt in the state to portray those who defend Vijayan as his fans’ association members. Some fear they would be portrayed as fanboys if they support Vijayan. Those who are prisoners of image consciousness must come out,” he opined.
The CPI(M)’s state secretary, MV Govindan, too, reminded the ministers of their moral obligation to defend the chief minister.
Riyas denied the allegation that most ministers fear Vijayan because of his autocratic ways, and hence were reluctant to support him in public.
“Such fears and silence have no meaning and they must not be encouraged. Now, the attack on the chief minister is part of a larger agenda. It is the duty of each minister to defend the chief minister against such attacks. They are duty bound to protect him,” he further said.
Congress fires fresh salvo
Soon after the television news channel aired Riyas’s statements, the Opposition Congress fired a fresh salvo at the Vijayan parivar.
“See what’s happening! The son-in-law is threatening and intimidating fellow ministers. It reflects the paranoia that has engulfed Vijayan’s family after corruption allegations related to Artificial Intelligence (AI) cameras and K-FON were made,” Opposition Leader VD Satheesan said.
“The ministers are remaining silent because the deals (for projects, including the AI traffic surveillance camera and K-FON) were struck without their knowledge. Vijayan is now using Riyas to express his displeasure at the ministers, mainly those of the alliance partner, the CPI,” the Congress leader said.
Meanwhile, Riyas’s statement became a hot topic of discussion within the CPI(M), in which many leaders are miffed over the chief minister’s style of functioning. Vijayan’s “autocratic” ways and the growing clout of his family in administrative matters have already created resentment within the party.
After Riyas’s statement, Excise Minister MB Rajesh made a guarded statement that Kerala has no image-conscious ministers.
“We will defend the party and government whenever such a situation arises. Bothering about the image is a right-wing tendency,” Rajesh said.
He indicated that the party should be defended rather than individuals.
Meanwhile, party secretary Govindan defended Riyas, saying there was nothing wrong in his open statement. He said all ministers must defend the chief minister.
However, several party insiders viewed Riyas’s statement as part of his efforts to strengthen his No 2 position in the party and government.
It has also been dubbed as a collective response of the family, which might be feeling singled out in the face of repeated political onslaughts.
For the Opposition UDF, Riyas is a permanent political target. Satheesan has often termed him as a person who found a berth in the Cabinet under the “management quota”.
The Opposition also highlighted Riyas’s statement as the first instance a family member of the CPI(M) directly engaging in the functioning of the government.
“Vijayan will not tolerate anyone in the ruling front who disapproves of Riyas. So he is getting stronger within the leadership,” Satheesan said.
Riyas’s recent statement terming all Congress MLAs in the state Assembly spineless had also courted controversy.
Hailing from Kozhikode, Riyas grew in politics through the SFI, the students’ wing of the CPI(M).
Till his marriage with Veena, Riyas had a low profile within the party. He was known as a North Kerala leader with little local clout.