Thiruvananthapuram: Hailing from a poor toddy tapper’s family, the 72-year-old Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) leader and Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan belongs to the politically dominant Thiyya community like his in-party rival Achuthanandan, who is an Ezhava from South Kerala.

Vijayan is a party politburo member and perhaps the only communist leader in recent years to have complete control over the party for 16 years, i.e. until he stepped down from the post of state secretary last year. A man of few words, he proved his organisational skills during this period.

He also enjoyed a short stint as the state’s power minister between 1996 and 1998.

The cloud of a graft case over the awarding of a contract to a Canadian company, SNC-Lavalin, for the modernisation of three hydel projects during that period haunted him during his time in power.

Vijayan has maintained that it was a politically motivated case and there was no wrong doing on his part.

While his critics described him as a leader “with no smile on his face, and the most feared politician in Kerala”, his party rivals have often accused him of deviating from the party line.

During his rule as state secretary, the infighting in the party between Vijayan and Achuthanandan came to the fore.

Vijayan was suspended from the politburo in 2007 along with Achuthanandan after the two openly criticised each other through media. Later, they were reinstated in the politburo. However, Achuthanandan was dropped once again for breaching party discipline.

Vijayan proved his mettle as an able administrator during his short stint as power minister in the Left Democratic Front (LDF) ministry, headed by late E.K. Nayanar, between 1996 and 1998.

During his tenure, the state witnessed a giant leap in power generation and distribution capacities.

Besides the SNC-Lavalin case, the murder of RMP leader T PChandrasekharan, a former CPM leader, at Onjiyam in Kozhikode in 2012, when he was the party state secretary, dented Vijayan’s image.