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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Meet the ministers in Kerala’s new Cabinet

With new faces at the helm of key portfolios, the 21-member Kerala Cabinet assumed office on Thursday. Here is what you need to know about the new ministers.

Written by Shaju Philip , Vishnu Varma | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: May 20, 2021 9:02:43 pm
Pinarayi Vijayan and his ministers in the new cabinet.

A 21-member Left Democratic Front (LDF) ministry, headed by Pinarayi Vijayan, took oath at the Central Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday. At the grand ceremony organised to mark the historic return of an incumbent government after a span of 40 years, attendance was limited to 500 persons in view of the Covid-19 protocols.

In the new cabinet, the CPI(M) have 12 ministers, CPI four ministers and one each from Kerala Congress (M), Indian National League (INL), Democratic Kerala Congress (DKC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Janata Dal (S) (JDS). MB Rajesh of the CPM is the Speaker and Chittayam Gopakumar of the CPI the Deputy Speaker of the new Assembly. N Jayaraj of KC(M) has been appointed as the chief whip with cabinet rank. 17 out of the 20 ministers in the cabinet are first-timers.

Here are the ministers in the new cabinet.

P Rajeev, 53, CPM, Industries Minister

P Rajeev (Photo courtesy: Facebook)

On May 2, when it became clear that CPM’s P Rajeev would emerge the winner in Kalamassery constituency in Ernakulam district, a pocket-borough of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), his elevation to the Kerala cabinet was a foregone conclusion. Rajeev has been given the heavy-wieght industries portfolio in the second term of the Vijayan government. A former Rajya Sabha MP between 2009 and 2015 and a recipient of the Sansad Ratna award for best parliamentarian, this is Rajeev’s first time as an MLA and a minister. He’s considered one of the party’s key ideological faces and has spoken extensively on the significance of the Marxist ideology in a democratic society. Though he was born in neighbouring Thrissur district, he engaged in much of his political activities in Ernakulam district. He has served as the party’s district secretary and the joint district secretary of the labour wing CITU. With his elevation, the district also gets a representation in the cabinet after a gap of five years. He’s also the editor-in-chief of the party mouthpiece Deshabhimani.

KN Balagopal, 57, CPM, Finance Minister

KN Balagopal (Source: Facebook)

A first-time MLA from Kottarakkara in Kollam district, Balagopal is a member of the CPM’s state secretariat. Like P Rajeev, Balagopal has also had a stint in the Rajya Sabha from 2010 to 2016 and is therefore expected to bring his parliamentary experience and maturity to the cabinet. The finance portfolio is a big responsibility for Balagopal who has to follow in the footsteps of TM Thomas Isaac, the two-time finance minister and economist. Isaac had been kept out of electoral politics this time due to the party’s strict rule of benching those who have had two consecutive terms to the Assembly. It falls on Balagopal’s shoulders to continue the development agenda under KIIFB, the state’s investment arm and a brainchild of Isaac. Balagopal has spent long years in the organisation, serving as the national president of the SFI and the DYFI, before becoming the Kollam district secretary of the CPM. In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he had fought unsuccessfully as the CPM candidate in Kollam against UDF’s NK Premachandran.

Veena George, 44, Health, Women & Child and Social Justice Minister

Veena George (Source: Facebook)

With the CPM state committee deciding not to give a second term to any minister from the previous cabinet except the chief minister, all eyes were on the health portfolio which was managed by KK Shailaja in the last five years. Though lauded nationally and internationally for her work in the ministry, Shailaja was not given an exception. In her place, the CPM has rested its hopes on Veena George, a second-time MLA from Aranmula in Pathanamthitta district. Formerly a journalist, Veena had a long stint in television news as anchor-reporter and rose to become the first woman chief of a media enterprise. In her debut election in 2016, Veena won from Aranmula, defeating K Sivadasan Nair of the Congress. Though she contested the Lok Sabha elections from Pathanamthitta in 2019, she was defeated by a big margin. This year, she repeated a victory from Aranmula and has cemented a place in the cabinet with a prized portfolio. She understands that she has big shoes to fill.

MV Govindan, 69, CPM, Local self-government and Excise Minister

MV Govindan (Source: Facebook)

The seniormost leader of the CPM after Pinarayi Vijayan in the cabinet, MV Govindan has been given charge of the local self-government and excise departments. An MLA from the party stronghold of Thaliparamba in Kannur district, this is Govindan’s third term to the Assembly and his first time in the ministry. He’s a member of the CPM’s central committee, the second-highest decision making body of the party in the country after the Politburo. Many see Govindan’s elevation to the cabinet as his reward for strengthening the party at the grassroots and sharpening its ideological heft. His seniority in the party and maturity in handling matters prudently is expected to help the party douse fires within and outside the cabinet. A former sports teacher at a government school, Govindan has served in the role of CPM’s Ernakulam and Kannur district secretary. He was the first state president of the DYFI and is currently the state chief of Kerala State Karshaka Thozhilali Union (KSKTU), the CPM’s farmer wing.

K Radhakrishnan, 57, CPM, Temple administration, SC/ST Minister

K Radhakrishnan (Source: Facebook)

Senior CPM leader and central committee member K Radhakrishnan will be the sole representative from the Scheduled Caste (SC) community in the new cabinet. Interestingly, he has been given the charge of temple administration (Devaswom), quite a controversial ministry in the last government in the backdrop of the Sabarimala protests, along with the SC/ST welfare portfolio. Radhakrishnan, an MLA from Chelakkara in Thrissur district, is widely popular within party circles due to his clean and genial image. This will be his fifth term in the Assembly and second time in the cabinet. After his debut election in 1996, Radhakrishnan was inducted into the then EK Nayanar government as a minister for SC/ST welfare. In 2006, he became the Speaker of the state Assembly.

R Bindu, 53, CPM, Higher Education Minister

R Bindu (Source: Facebook)

One of the three woman faces in the cabinet, R Bindu is an MLA from Irinjalakuda in Thrissur district. Head of the English department and vice-principal of the Sree Kerala Varma College, Bindu had taken voluntary retirement to contest the Assembly elections. She was the first woman mayor of Thrissur corporation between 2005 and 2010. She’s also set to be the first woman minister from Thrissur district in the cabinet. In accordance with her professional accomplishments in academia, she has been handed charge of the higher education portfolio. Her entry into Left politics was natural as both her parents are academics and her father N Radhakrishnan is a member of the CPM area committee in Irinjalakuda. Bindu herself is a member of the CPM Thrissur district committee and the central executive committee of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), the women’s wing of the CPM. She’s also the wife of LDF convenor A Vijayaraghavan.

PA Muhammad Riyas, 45, CPM, PWD and Tourism Minister

PA Muhammad Riyas (Source: Facebook)

A rising Muslim face of the CPM in Malabar, PA Muhammad Riyas makes his debut both in the Assembly and the Cabinet. He has been rewarded with two plum portfolios: public works department (PWD) and tourism, both of which are crucial to the state’s economy. In the previous term of the Vijayan government, both portfolios rested with two different ministers. Riyas is the national president of the DYFI, the CPM youth wing, and represents Beypore in Kozhikode district. In 2009, he had fought the Lok Sabha elections from Kozhikode against Congress’ MK Raghavan, but lost by a tiny margin. An avid chess player, Riyas had locked horns with grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand at a competition in Kozhikode when the former was in sixth standard. Riyas married Pinarayi Vijayan’s daughter Veena last year.

Saji Cheriyan, 55, CPM, Fisheries and Cultural affairs Minister

Saji Cheriyan (Source: Facebook)

A popular face of the CPM in Alappuzha district, Saji Cheriyan was elected from Chengannur constituency, an erstwhile Congress stronghold, this year. He had won the seat in a bye-election too in 2018, following the demise of the sitting CPM MLA. During the floods that year, Cheriyan’s public appeal for government help to save hundreds of people stranded in homes in Chengannur had made headlines. It was his frantic call for help that’s believed to have spurred the government into action then and helped save a lot of lives. Like most Communist leaders, Cheriyan made his way into politics through the SFI and later the DYFI. He was the Alappuzha district vice-president and state committee member of the SFI. He has also been elected to the block panchayat and district panchayat in Chengannur. In the new cabinet, he will handle the fisheries and cultural affairs portfolios.

VN Vasavan, 66, CPM, Co-operation and Registration Minister

VN Vasavan (Source: Facebook)

A man who led the CPM’s efforts to stitch an alliance with the Kerala Congress (M) and thereby make inroads into UDF bastions in Kottayam district, VN Vasavan has found a place in the cabinet. He will be in-charge of co-operation and registration portfolios. His electoral record is a mix of successes and failures. In his first electoral contest in 1987, he lost to Congress heavyweight Oommen Chandy. But nearly two decades later, he made his debut in the Assembly from Kottayam constituency, a stronghold of the Congress. But in 2011, he tasted defeat against Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan. In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, he fought from Kottayam but lost once again to KC(M)’s Jose K Mani, now an ally of his party. This year, he was elected from Ettumanoor, a constituency where Congress faced revolt from one of its own.

V Sivankutty, 66, CPM, General Education and Labour Minister

V Sivankutty (Source: Facebook)

The giant-killer from Nemom where he overcame a fierce contest with Congress’ K Muraleedharan and BJP’s Kummanam Rajasekharan, V Sivankutty has been promoted to the cabinet and will be a first-time minister. A former mayor of Thiruvananthapuram corporation, Sivankutty has been endowed with heavyweight ministries of general education and labour. It was fairly certain that Sivankutty would find a place in the cabinet post his big election win from Nemom. It is the only constituency the BJP has ever won in Kerala. This is Sivankutty’s third term in the Assembly. He had earlier won in 2006 from Thiruvananthapuram East and in 2011 from Nemom. He lost to BJP’s O Rajagopal in 2016, opening the saffron party’s account in the state. Sivankutty has served as SFI’s state president, secretary and national joint secretary early in his career. He’s currently a member of the CPM state committee and state secretary of the CITU. He’s an avid football fan.

V Abdurahman, 59, CPM-backed Independent, Minority Affairs Minister

V Abdurahman (Source: Facebook)

If KT Jaleel was the Muslim face the LDF projected in the last cabinet from Malappuram district, this time it’s V Abdurahman, who won from Tanur constituency as a CPM-backed Independent. This is his second win from Tanur and the first time in the cabinet. Abdurahman was associated with the Congress for a long time, having joined politics through its student wing, KSU. He rose through the party ranks quickly, establishing himself as a prominent leader in Malappuram. But just before the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, he broke ranks with the Congress and contested as a LDF-backed candidate from Ponnani. Though he lost that time, he registered his first win from Tanur in 2016, a constituency considered the citadel of the Muslim League. This year, he repeated the victory defeating popular young face of Muslim League, PK Firos.

P Prasad, 51, CPI, Agriculture Minister

P Prasad (Source: Facebook)

Elected from Cherthala constituency in his debut electoral contest, Prasad is known as a green politician as he had been in the forefront of several environmental agitations. Prasad, convener of CPI’s subcommittee for environment, had been active in the agitation against the bottling plant of soft drink major Coke at Plachimada in Palakkad. Prasad, who rose from party ranks, had been active in Narmada Bachao Andolan and protests against greenfield airport at Aranmula in Kerala. During the LDF regime of 2006-2011, Prasad had served as additional private secretary to Binoy Vishwam, then forest minister.

K Krishnankutty, 75, Janata Dal (S), Power Minister 

K Krishnankutty (Source: Facebook)

Krishnakutty, who won from his pocket borough Chittur in Palakkad, had served as water resources minister in the previous LDF regime for two-and-a-half years. Krishnakutty, a farmer-cum-politician, had started his political career in Congress, but moved to Janata Party and later shifted to Janata Dal. When Janata Dal (S) split in 2009, he had joined the splinter group led by M P Veerendrakumar. In 2015, he returned to JD (S). He had got elected to the assembly four times in the past. One of the senior ministers in the second Vijayan government, Krishnakutty has been in the forefront in protecting the rights of Kerala in inter-state water disputes.

A K Saseendran, 75, NCP, Forest Minister 

A K Saseendran (Source: Facebook)

Saseendran had been transport minister in the first Vijayan Government. He had to quit office for a short period after a TV channel aired an audio of his sexually explicit conversion with a woman journalist. Saseendran, who won from Elathur constituency in Kozhikode, had been with Congress but moved to Left in 1978 along with A K Antony. Although Antony later went back to Congress, Saseendran stood with Congress (S), an ally of LDF since 1982.  Since 1980, he has contested eight elections and won six times. Although the Kerala unit of the party had split on the eve of assembly elections, the Saseendran faction stood with LDF in Kerala and with Sharad Pawar at the national level.

Antony Raju, 67, Janadhipathya Kerala Congress, Transport Minister

Antony Raju (Source: Facebook)

Antony Raju is a surprise winner of this election from Thiruvananthapuram Central, where he defeated Congress’ sitting legislator V S Sivakumar, BJP’s actor-turned-candidate Krishnakumar. Antony, who belongs to the backward Christian community in the coastal area, has been an odd man in the regional party Kerala Congress, dominated by upper caste Catholics of Central Kerala. He had contested five elections from the state capital since 1991 but won in two times, including the victory of 2021. When his mentor P J Joseph of Kerala Congress (Joseph) returned to UDF in 2015, Antony split the party and floated Janadhipathya Kerala Congress, which remained with LDF. A lawyer by profession, Antony ensured representation for the coastal community in the second Vijayan regime.

Ahamed Devarkovil, 61, Indian National League, Port and Archeology Minister 

Ahamed Devarkovil (Source: Facebook)

By becoming a minister in the second Vijayan Government, Ahamed has ensured the debut entry for his party, which veteran parliamentarian late Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait had formed in 1994 after walking out of Indian Union Muslim League in the post-Babri churning in that party. INL had been with LDF since then, but was made an ally only before the last Lok Sabha elections. Ahamed had been with IUML, but moved to Mumbai to run a travel agency in 1980’s. Later, he joined INL in Mumbai when the party was formed in 1994. After he started a travel agency business in Kozhikode, Ahamed converted that city into his political ground. He also rose as INL state president and national general secretary. In his maiden electoral battle in Kozhikode south, he defeated IUML woman candidate Noorbeena Rasheed.

K Rajan, 47, CPI, Revenue Minister 

K Rajan (Source: Facebook)

He won from Ollur constituency for the second term in 2021. Rajan had served as the Government chief whip in the previous LDF regime, but only from 2019. He started his political career as a leader of All India Students’ Federation, the student wing of CPI, and later rose to the leadership of its youth outfit All India Youth Federation (AIYF). A member of CPI state executive, Rajan has been active in several agitations against the previous UDF regime of 2011-2016. A lawyer by profession, Rajan had led the LDF agitations against bar bribery and solar scandals of UDF.

Chinchu Rani, 57, CPI, Animal Husbandry and Dairy Development Minister

Chinchu Rani (Source: Facebook)

Chinchu Rani got elected from Chadayamangalam in her first electoral battle and went on to become a minister as CPI wanted to nominate a new team to the LDF government.  She is the first woman minister from CPI, after the party split in 1964, leading to the formation of CPI(M).  Chinju, an athlete during her college days in Kollam, had got initiated into the state’s three-tier local body. She had been a member of Eravipuram village panchayat as well as the district panchayat in Kollam. She is currently a member of CPI the national council and the state executive. Her husband D Sukesan is also a CPI leader in Kollam.

G R Anil, 58, CPI, Civil Supplies Minister 

GR Anil (Source: Facebook)

Anil represents Nedumangad assembly seat in Thiruvananthapuram. Anil, who had served as CPI district secretary in Thiruvananthapuram, had been a member of the city municipal corporation for ten years. A former district secretary of the All-India Kisan Sabha, Anil is currently the party’s state working committee member and district vice-president of the All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). A law graduate, Anil is a leader of several AITUC affiliated trade unions. His wife Latha Devi, a retired college professor, had got elected to the state assembly from Chadayamangalam constituency in 1996.

Roshi Augustine, 52, Kerala Congress (M), Water Resources Minister

Roshy Augustine (Source: Facebook)

Roshi, a shadow of Kerala Congress (M) chairman Jose K Mani, rose to prominence in the party after the death of K M Mani in 2019. He stood with junior Mani in the intra-party tussle over its legacy and emerged as the second-in command under Jose. Roshi got elected from Idukki constituency, which he has been winning since 2001. The unexpected defeat of Jose K Mani in the elections, paved the way for Roshi’s entry into the second Vijayan cabinet. A law graduate, Roshi had entered politics through KC (M) youth outfit Youth Front.

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