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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Pinarayi sends a political message, takes charge of minorities department

The issue of alleged discrimination in distributing minority welfare scholarships had recently emerged as a bone of contention in the state, leading to an unprecedented rift between the Muslim and Christian communities.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: May 22, 2021 3:11:24 am
Pinarayi VijayanVijayan is the first chief minister in the history of the state to be re-elected to power after a full five-year term. (Photo: Twitter/@vijayanpinarayi)

In what is seen as a significant political move, Pinarayi Vijayan has taken over the Minorities Welfare Department, as per a notification issued by the government, thereby becoming the first Kerala Chief Minister to handle the department, which over the years has been allotted to ministers belonging to the minority community.

The issue of alleged discrimination in distributing minority welfare scholarships had recently emerged as a bone of contention in the state, leading to an unprecedented rift between the Muslim and Christian communities.

Addressing the media on Friday, Vijayan said, “All sections (of society) have welcomed it. When the chief minister is handling a department, there is no room for concern for anyone. The decision stemmed from a common opinion that the minority welfare (portfolio) should be kept with the CM.”

The decision is seen as a step at reassuring the Christian Churches. Post-poll results, various Christian groups have demanded that the minority welfare department should be under Vijayan to ensure equitable distribution of schemes among minority communities.

In the previous LDF regime, K T Jaleel, a CPI(M)-backed Independent MLA from Malappuram, was the Minority Welfare minister. Besides alleged discrimination in distributing minority scholarships, the department had faced serious charges of nepotism in multiple appointments. Jaleel was last month forced to quit as minister after the Lokayukta found him guilty of nepotism and abuse of power in appointing a close relative in the State Minorities Finance Development Corporation.

In this election, the CPI(M)-led LDF gained politically from the rift between Muslims and Christians after a major chunk of Christians backing the LDF as a mark of protest towards what they saw as growing influence of the Indian Union Muslim League in the Congress-led UDF. Christians, particularly the prominent Catholic community, feared that if the UDF is voted to power, the IUML would call the shots in the minority welfare department.

They believed that UDF failed to address the concerns raised by Christians, even though the community has traditionally voted for UDF.

As minority welfare minister Vijayan could also prevent the BJP from trying to exploit the situation by highlighting alleged discrimination in minority welfare schemes and try to woo the Christian community.

During allocation of portfolios, it was believed that CPI(M) legislator V Abdurahiman would be allocated the minority welfare portfolio, as he was seen as stepping into the shoes of Jaleel. Abdurahiman has been allotted Sports, Wakf and Haj Pilgrimage, Railways, Posts and Telegraphs.

IUML general secretary K P Kunhalikutty said Vijayan’s action amounts to insulting the community, while Kerala Catholic Bishops Council said the CM has taken a suitable decision considering the prevailing public sentiments. This is a demand raised several times in the past, KCBC stated.

Vijayan also has the Pollution Control department under him, thereby becoming the first Kerala CM in two decades to handle the portfolio. In previous LDF governments — 2006-11 and 2016-21 — pollution control was handled by the health minister. Vijayan taking over the department has much significance at a time his second government is planning fast-track, single-window clearance for big projects and several mining proposals pending.

Issues related to pollution has been a major hurdle in the state’s industrial growth.

Minor LDF allies, including Kerala Congress (M), have been allotted low-profile departments in this government.

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