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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Explained: Why is there no space for KK Shailaja in Vijayan’s new Kerala cabinet?

During Shailaja's term as health minister, Kerala witnessed an unprecedented growth of the public health system, particularly at the grassroots level, which has now helped Kerala fight Covid-19 rather effectively.

Written by Shaju Philip , Edited by Explained Desk | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: May 25, 2021 10:14:23 am
KK Shailaja, whose role was widely praised for Covid management, was elected from the Mattannur assembly seat with a historic margin of 60,000-odd votes. (Illustration: Vishnu Ram)

When the CPI(M) on Tuesday finalised the party nominees for the second cabinet led by Pinarayi Vijayan, the biggest surprise was the exclusion of senior leader K K Shailaja, health minister in the outgoing LDF government. She was elected from the Mattannur assembly seat with a historic margin of 60,000-odd votes.

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Uproar over Shailaja exclusion

Shailaja’s exclusion has triggered an uproar in the media. One of the election planks of the LDF had been its remarkable achievements in the health sector, particularly during the Nipah outbreak and the ongoing pandemic days. Shailaja’s leadership during the days of the health crisis had been hailed. Besides, during her term as health minister, the state witnessed an unprecedented growth of the public health system, particularly at the grassroots level, which has now helped Kerala fight Covid-19. At one time, party circles had even highlighted Shailaja as the successor to Pinarayi Vijayan.

In unofficial discussions about the next cabinet, the CPI (M) had never dropped any hint about the exclusion of Shailaja, considering her much-acclaimed leadership during the pandemic. Society at large also expected that Shailaja, who rose to stardom during the pandemic days, would continue as the health minister. However, it was only on Tuesday that Vijayan revealed his plans about his next team members.

No second term for any minister

Shailaja was excluded in the second innings of the Vijayan government, which assumes office on Thursday, as per the party’s professed decision not to give a second term to any minister from the previous LDF government. The only exception is Vijayan, who has assumed the status of a Captain. Apart from Shailaja, CPI(M) has also dropped ministers A C Moideen, M M Mani, T P Ramakrishnan and Kadakampally Surendran. Also grounded is CPI (M)-backed legislator K T Jaleel, a minister in the previous regime. Jaleel had got embroiled in several controversies over nepotism in appointments.

Shailaja’s leadership during the days of the health crisis had been hailed. (Source: KK Shailaja/Facebook)

Vijayan’s supremacy

The decision once again cements the supremacy and unquestionable clout of Vijayan in the party as well as the government. In the elections, Vijayan had taken a revolutionary decision not to give tickets for any sitting legislator who has completed two consecutive terms. This led to exclusion of several ministers, including second-rung leaders, from the election fray. Many senior CPI (M) ministers had been grounded by this move. The party sympathisers and a section of leaders had feared that the decision would lead to a setback for the party in many traditional strongholds, but the results proved otherwise.

CM Pinarayi Vijayan

This historic mandate, LDF winning 99 out of 140 seats, has proved that Vijayan’s strategy worked. That victory has given confidence for Vijayan to usher in his second consecutive term with a crop of new faces.

Party, policy above individual

By excluding Shailaja, the CPI(M) wants to give the message that the LDF sought a mandate not banking upon the achievements and image of any individual minister. Instead, the LDF has relied upon the performance of the government as a whole and hence the mandate for the second term was for the LDF. The decision shows that in the CPI (M), its policy and the party are much above any individual, irrespective of the popularity of the leaders. The party does not want to give any credit for Shailaja as an individual minister for the feats of the health sector in the previous government.

Scant regard for public sentiments

The decision is also a message that the party is least bothered about the sentiments of the society at large. Shailaja has won laurels in society cutting across the political spectrum for her show as health minister. For Kerala society, she looked the natural choice to lead the health ministry. Some even expected she would get another critical portfolio.

KK Shailaja was elected from the Mattannur assembly seat with a historic margin of 60,000-odd votes. (Source: KK Shailaja/Facebook)

Challenge for Vijayan

Vijayan is stepping into his second consecutive term as chief minister when the state is being stretched by the pandemic. The health department and its performance would be under the scanner of civil society, more so post-Shailaja. It would be the onus of Vijayan to ensure that his decision to bring in a new health minister did not go wrong.

Vijayan has to prove that he can lead a government machinery in the most efficient manner with a team of newcomers and greenhorns. The exclusion of Shailaja has presented a new challenge for Vijayan.

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