With the historic return to power of the CPI(M)-led LDF in Kerala being overshadowed by the exclusion of K K Shailaja from the new government after her acclaimed performance as Health Minister amid the Covid crisis, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the decision to form an all-new Cabinet was long-pending but could not be implemented “due to various factors” — it has been done now considering the “conducive political situation”.
“The driving spirit behind this norm is to equip the party and the administration to face future challenges,” Vijayan told The Indian Express in his first interview after taking oath of office.
Stressing that it was not a recent decision, Vijayan said: “In fact, it was there for long. But we could not implement it totally due to various factors. This time, the party decided that this norm will be implemented without any exception considering various factors, including the conducive political situation. The people of Kerala have accepted this and this is shown in the huge mandate.”
Asked about his new government’s priorities, Vijayan said that apart from poverty alleviation programmes, “a separate committee has been constituted under the Chief Secretary to formulate a scheme that will ease the workload of homemakers through a ‘Smart Kitchen Project’ and protect women engaged in domestic work”.
The LDF bucked a longstanding trend in Kerala of the two main coalitions — the other is the Congress-led UDF — not getting a repeat term in power by winning 99 of the 140 seats in the Assembly elections this time. The swearing-in ceremony of the new government led by Vijayan and including 20 others, most of them new faces, was held Thursday.
But the decision to exclude Shailaja and the inclusion of Vijayan’s son-in-law and first-time legislator P A Mohammed Riyas, who is the national president of the CPI(M)’s youth wing DYFI, had triggered disquiet even among Left sympathisers and the party’s central leadership.
Vijayan, however, remained unfazed. “To bring new faces as MLAs and Ministers was a decision taken by the party. I am glad that many, including our adversaries, are now in full praise of our efforts in the health sector. The very people who had ridiculed Shailaja Teacher are singing her praises,” he said.
The Chief Minister said his government’s initiatives were always “part of team work”. “An able and competent young woman has succeeded Shailaja Teacher. I would request all to stop the canards and support the government in its efforts to deal with the pandemic,” he said. Shailaja has been replaced by former journalist and first-time CPI(M) MLA Veena George.
Vijayan, who reinforced his position as the unquestioned leader of the LDF in the run-up to the polls, also rejected apprehensions over what critics describe as a centralisation of power under him in the CPI(M)’s Kerala unit.
Asked about what he would do to ensure better consultation between the party and the government, Vijayan said: “The question springs up due to falsehood that is propagated and lack of knowledge about our party. The decisions of the government are according to the promises we have made to the people. The media wants to stereotype people and to create certain images. The people of Kerala can see through all these designs.”
The Kerala verdict, along with wins for DMK in Tamil Nadu and TMC in West Bengal, is being projected as a trigger for the emergence of anti-BJP forces at the national level. And Vijayan reiterated that his party’s prime objective is to “ensure the defeat of the BJP which has a divisive agenda”.
“The recent elections certainly underline our point that there are forces which can take on BJP. We do hope that there will be movements in that direction at the national level, too,” he said.