Updated: May 19, 2021 8:58:54 am
The Kerala CPM has announced a relatively young team of first-time ministers to assist Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who helped the party buck the traditional alternation in assembly polls to retain office with an enhanced majority. Barring Vijayan himself and K Radhakrishnan, a former Speaker, none of the 12 CPM nominees in the new cabinet have ministerial experience. But the exclusion of K K Shailaja, the health minister in the previous government, who was widely commended for her handling of the Covid-19 crisis, is shocking. Her omission takes the sheen off what could be seen as an experiment by the party to look beyond age and experience in allocating portfolios in government. The party’s explanation that she was dropped to make way for newcomers is unconvincing.
Shailaja became the face of Kerala’s battle against Covid, and, earlier, the Nipah outbreak. Her quiet efficiency and empathetic responses in the face of crises were acknowledged by people across party lines, and also drew international acclaim. Her stand-out margin of victory in this election — over 60,000 votes — the highest ever in an assembly election in Kerala, was testimony of her popularity. The pandemic has not receded from Kerala. In fact, there is now a big spike in infections and mortality figures. Continuity at the top may be necessary to avoid disruption in the planning, monitoring and delivery of health services. Shailaja’s reassuring presence at the helm would have come in handy in containing the second wave and in planning for the future. It will take a while before the new incumbent steps up to the challenge, wins the confidence of the team and starts to lead from the front. In her new role as whip, Shailaja will continue to be useful to the party, but Kerala will miss her as minister.
The decision of the party to include the son-in-law of Vijayan, P A Mohammed Riyas, and the wife of Left Democratic Front convenor, R Bindu, in the ministry is also striking — and controversial. The party may say that both the first-time legislators are leaders in their own right — Riyas is national president of the DYFI and Bindu is a former corporation mayor. But their inclusion in the ministry is bound to invite charges of nepotism, given the party’s claim to the high ground on the issue. With a pool of 99 MLAs available to it, the CPM could have been more judicious about its choices for 12 ministers. Its present picks underline the apprehension that, in the end, should Captain Vijayan force his way, the party may not be able to resist.
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