18 September 2019 13:35:36 IST

Pinarayi Vijayan’s Onam diktat, and the case for after-work festivities

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. (Photo: C Ratheesh Kumar)

At this rate, the CPI(M) leader might well turn out to be the most capitalist of Kerala’s chief ministers

I have not been a fan of Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of my home State Kerala. It is probably because I first heard about him when his name came up in the SNC-Lavalin case . The man with a Stalin-like, icy gaze, as my colleague KPM Basheer wrote this week , has always been compared less favourably with his comrade VS Achuthanandan, who comes across as popular and accessible.

But ever since Pinarayi took over at the helm of public affairs in Kerala earlier this year, he has made critics eat their words. The headline of Basheer’s story — 100 days on, Pinarayi emerges a loh purush — sums him up well. His first few steps as Chief Minister have been impressive.

That includes the one restricting Onam festivities during office hours. Vijayan has warned government officials against holding flower arrangement competitions, a norm in almost every other office in Kerala during the festival. Instead, the Communist leader said on his Facebook account, the celebrations could be conducted after office hours, or during the holidays.

 

No celebrating in office

He said: "Not only Onam, for that matter, any festival celebrations should be held without affecting the functioning of office work. In this matter, government would ensure its intervention.” Vijayan also sought a ban on sale of festival items on office premises.

The Chief Minister wouldn’t have dared issue such a diktat if the festival was followed by elections. Also, even as he asked his government colleagues not to waste time celebrating, Vijayan has encouraged everyone to support the strike called by the CPI(M). As journalist TS Sudhir wrote in a news portal, how fair is Vijayan in asking people to participate in a strike and be away from work?

Or did the move come from Vijayan the Communist, to celebrate the allegiance to atheism? The BJP was quick to term the LDF government anti-Hindu.

The spiritual and ethical analysis apart, the step is in the right direction. Imagine going to a government office for an urgent need and coming across officials busy arranging flowers. This could be one of those measures that could lead to a bigger initiative in making government offices in Kerala more efficient.

Working hours and productivity

The move might have robbed some sheen from the festive spirit in Kerala and none of the employees in State government offices are likely to be amused. Even though Onam comes with a week-long holiday, few would want to be in office to celebrate. Holidays are for spending quality time with the family, aren’t they?

But look at this: India has the largest number of public holidays in the world — 21. The Chinese get 18 days, and in the US, there are eight public holidays in a year. The lowest is in Mexico with seven, according to a study done by travel portal Wego last year.

Sure, Indian babus might be putting in more hours; eight hours a day (going by the usual 9 am – 5 pm work hours) would make it over 2,000 hours a year, much higher than the British and German counterparts, who clock 1,647 and 1,408 hours respectively. The study, which didn’t include India, was done by the OECD and was topped by South Korea with 2,103 hours.

Productivity

But how do we rank on the productivity list? India was placed 55th on the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, which combines 113 indicators of productivity. Despite having jumped 16 places from the year before, 55 is not a very commendable performance.

Another OECD study links a higher number of working hours with lower productivity. Germany might have one of the lowest working hours, but it topped the list with productivity of nearly $50 per hour. Mexico, where an average worker clocked more than 2,000 hours a year (probably because of the fewer holidays), came at the bottom with $14 an hour.

You can guess which country — Germany or Mexico — would allow its employees to celebrate during office hours.

In Kerala, the local communists might abhor measuring labour productivity the capitalist way but, going by Vijayan’s first 100 days, he might well turn out to the most capitalist of Kerala’s chief ministers.