Thiruvananthapuram: Grim political and economic challenges appear to be in store for the Congress-led UDF government headed by Oommen Chandy in Kerala as it enters its third year in office on May 18.
Though its second year in office has been politically turbulent, Chandy has astutely weathered many an internal and external storm without giving any doubts on the stability and continuity of the ministry under his leadership.
As he sails into the crucial third year, seen widely as more challenging as Lok Sabha polls are due in 2014, Chandy sounds far more confident saying he would press ahead with his agenda of "development and care."
His critics, especially those in the opposition CPI(M)-led LDF, however, hold that Chandy has been "long on words and short on performance" as the state has been in the grip of deep economic and social crises.
Countering the critics with a list of achievements, during an interaction with editors and senior journalists earlier this week, Chandy claimed that major strides had been made in infrastructure development without compromising on government firm`s commitment to social security of the poor and needy.
The projects, which are set to be on track soon having done the ground work, include Kochi Metro, SmartCity, Kannur airport, Vizhinjam port, mono rail for Thiruvanathapuram and Kozhikode and development of national waterways.
On welfare front, the thrust this year is going to be on the health care for the poor as sharp increase in medical costs is beyond the capacity of a large section of people. In this regard, Chandy said, there would be some major announcements during the anniversary.
Government is also unveiling a long-term perspective plan for the state seeking to strengthen its economy and social security, taking the Scandinavian economies as role model.
The draft of the plan, Vision 2030, to be brought out by the state Planning Board in a few weeks, would be put in the public domain for eliciting opinion and creating a political consensus.
On the economic front, the biggest challenge is to overcome a crippling power crisis, caused by deficient monsoon rains last year. The shortfall in rains also created severe drought conditions and drinking water shortage in many parts.
According to Chandy, the government will be giving added thrust to harnessing solar energy to reduce the state`s dependence on hydel power.
The past 12 months has been marred by several internal and external challenges that often dimmed the ministry`s image, putting Chandy`s skills as a strategist to severe test.
However, even his critics agree, that he has succeeded in steering the coalition through turbulences such as the image-crises like resulting from the family quarrel of former minister K B Ganesh Kumar, which took an ugly turn before he exited from the cabinet.
Chandy had to face virulent attacks from influential community outfits like the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (of the Ezhavas) and Nair Service Society (NSS), whose leaders have charged him with neglecting the "the interests of the majority (Hindu) community".
While refuting this charge, Chandy has refrained from joining issue with these outfits as an open confrontation would be exploited by the LDF to its advantage.
The real challenge that awaits Chandy is Lok Sabha polls.
A poor performance of the UDF, with the Congress contesting 17 of the 20 seats, could even cost him his job as his immediate Congress predecessor A K Antony had set a precedent of stepping down from the Chief Minister`s post in 2004 after UDF did badly in the Lok Sabha polls.
Significantly, it was after Antony`s resignation that Chandy had his first stint as chief minister from 2004 to 2006.
Though Parliament elections would be fought largely on national issues, LDF is certain to turn it into a referendum on the Chandy government`s performance.