I am disappointed that a lady who was performing so well as health minister has been dropped in spite of winning the election from her constituency, Mattannur, with a record breaking margin of 67,013 votes. This is huge majority in an assembly election. K.K. Shailaja has been considered by observers a successor to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The chief minister created a record by winning second successive term for the first time in 45 years. He has methodically eliminated senior leaders from the assembly as well as government. While distributing the tickets he imposed a formula which stipulated that anyone who has won two consecutive terms would not be eligible to contest in 2021. With this rule he has denied tickets to many senior party leaders with legislative and administrative experience. After winning the election creating history, he came up with another rule saying that all the ministers in 2016-2021 cabinet to be dropped and none of them will be repeated. This is another stratagem to avoid persons like K.K. Shailaja who has been hailed world over as the most successful health minister and seen as a future leader of the party.
Vijayan CPM’s Modi?
No wonder, Vjayan, has been compared to Modi by some observers. While Narendra Modi made seniors in the BJP such as Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi irrelevant and came to gain full control over the party and the government after winning 2019 elections with greater majority, Pinarayi Vijayan has ensured that his command over the party and the government is unquestionable. Modi has come to dominate even the RSS. Vijayan has no fear of the national leadership of the party which has got weakened over the years. In spite of their soft corner for Shailaja, both Sitaram Yechuri and Brinda Karat could not suggest to Vijayan to make her an exception. The State committee is obviously under Vijayan’s tight leash. While a strong leader has emerged in 2019 in the BJP in the North, here comes a czar of the CPM, exactly opposite to the BJP in ideology, in the deep South. A party which takes pride in discussions, deliberations and collective decisions is now grudgingly supporting the powerful local satrap. When you think of how the party under the leadership of Prakash Karat stood firm on its decision not to allow a tall leader like Jyothi Basu to take over as prime minister (which decision was later described as a historic blunder), one can only wonder at the changed times. Had CPM won some seats in the just concluded West Bengal elections, may be, things would have been a little different.
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Male dominated parties
The CPM and CPI are generally male dominated parties. We see only Brinda Karat in polit bureau meetings. In Kerala, we had iron leader K. R. Gauri Amma who passed away the other day at the age of 102. There were many women who wielded guns and fought against goons of landlords and Razakars in Telangana peasants’ armed struggle, when it came to giving ticket to fight in assembly or Lok Sabha elections, we found only men and a few women in the fray. In undivided Andhra Pradesh, there were Rajya Sabha members from CPM and CPI such as Moturi Hanumantha Rao, Dr. Radhakrishna Murthy and Giri Prasad, but not a single woman. That was one of the many areas in which the Communists in the country have failed. Though another lady, Veena George, is likely to replace Shailaja as health minister, the number of women in the entire cabinet is only three. Veena may do a good job. That is beside the point.
Had the plan to drop all the minister been announced before poll?
Had the CPM announced before polling that the entire cabinet, including Shailaja, will be dropped, I am sure, the result would have been different. Party is important. Individuals do matter. We are not following the proportional representation system where the parties are voted and they in turn nominate its MLAs or MPs proportionately. The choice by the voters in a parliamentary democracy is influenced by reputation of the candidates, policies of the government and overall image of the party concerned. The performance of the health department was part of the campaign in which the CPM has rightly taken the credit and impressed the voters. The major factor that must have contributed to the historic win registered by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) this time was the performance of Shaiaja Teacher as minister of health. Had the people been told that Shaialja would not be in the cabinet that would be formed after the elections, the verdict would perhaps have been somewhat different. That was the kind of stardom she achieved through sincere and hard work. She was hailed ‘rock star health minister’ for the way she handled Covid-19 with UK-based Prospect magazine naming her “Top Thinker of the year 2020.” She was named one of the most influencial women by the Financial Times and was also honoured by the United Nations. She made her mark by effectively fighting Nipah virus and then spearheaded the battle against Covid-19. Perhaps the reputation was her undoing.
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Sailaja cannot contest in 2026!
When the entire cabinet could be dropped why should Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijan continue? He could have given place to some other leader to head the government. The chief minister has exempted himself from the rule of two term MLAs not getting ticket to fight elections and one time ministers not eligible to become ministers again. Vijayan has scored three firsts. 1. He denied tickets to all the seniors by bringing about a formula of “two terms no ticket.” 2. He saw to it that all the ministers who assisted him in the first term are not repeated.3. He has made his son-in-law P.A. Mohammad Riyas, a minister. This kind of nepotism was never witnessed in CPM in Kerala so far. Nobody dares to question it. If Vijayan persists to exempt himself and apply the rule of two terms and no ticket, leaders like Shailaja will have to retire in 2026. What kind of policy is this?
Pinarayi Vijayan is going to take oath as chief minister for the second time along with other ministers, all fresh faces, on Thursday. The twenty one member cabinet has three women.