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KK Shailaja, Kerala’s ‘virus slayer’, dropped from cabinet as CM Vijayan opts for new faces

CPM leaders say it was a conscious decision to give new leaders a chance and bring in fresh views. Shailaja, who scored a record victory, says will abide by party decision.

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Bengaluru: Kerala’s ‘virus slayer’ K.K. Shailaja was Tuesday dropped from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s new cabinet. The former health minister was instead named as the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s chief whip.

The move came as a surprise even as senior CPM leaders said that it was a conscious decision by Vijayan and the party to give only new faces a chance and bring in fresh expertise. No minister from the previous Vijayan government has been repeated, save for the CM.

Earlier, Vijayan had also decided to deny tickets to all sitting CPM legislators who had completed two consecutive terms in a move that also resulted in the exclusion of five ministers, including ex-finance minister Thomas Isaac.

After the announcement, Shailaja, who earned widespread acclaim for her performance during Covid-19 management and even won the election by record margin, told Malayalam news channels that she will “abide” by the party call.

In the new cabinet, Vijayan has also inducted his son-in law P.A. Mohamed Riyas, who is the national president of the Democratic Youth Federation, the youth wing of the CPM. The 44-year-old is married to Vijayan’s daughter Veena. He won from the CPM bastion Beypore in last month’s assembly election.

Also read: Vaccination for priority groups in 18-44 age category begins in Kerala amid Covid surge

The Shailaja shocker

Shailaja, who is popularly known as ‘Shailaja Teacher’, had received a lot of praise for her effective handling of the Nipah virus epidemic in 2018 and the Covid pandemic during her tenure as Kerala’s health minister.

In the assembly elections, Shailaja contested from the Mattannur constituency and broke the record of the highest margin between candidates in the state ever recorded, with her 60,000-vote victory over Illikkal Augusthy of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.

The decision to drop senior ministers from the previous government was taken during the state committee meeting of the CPM, according to party leaders ThePrint spoke to.

Speaking about this call, CPM leader A.N. Shamseer clarified that it was the party’s collective decision to give the newcomers a chance to work.

“It is a well thought of decision. A good blend of the young and the old will help the LDF grow to greater heights,” Shamseer told ThePrint.

“Look at it positively. The CM wanted a new team, fresh faces to get a new perspective. That’s all there is. In our second innings, we also plan to build CPM’s ‘new gen’. All our MLAs and ministers have performed extremely well. It was also the right time to give the other elected representatives a chance,” senior CPM leader T.A. Anil Kumar told ThePrint.

Speaking to the media in Thiruvananthapuram, Shailaja said, “I have performed to the best of my abilities. I accept the party’s decision. I am a party worker and will continue doing work for my constituents and the people of Kerala who voted us back for a second term. A hundred thank yous to all those who elected me again.”

On new faces in the government, she said it was a good decision and she hoped the new faces will take this opportunity to work hard.

New LDF cabinet

Earlier this month, Vijayan’s Left Democratic Front (LDF) defied Kerala’s four-decade tradition to secure two terms in a row. On Tuesday, Vijayan announced his brand new cabinet, including his son-in-law.

The swearing-in ceremony is expected to be a low-key affair on 20 May. LDF convenor and CPM acting state secretary A. Vijayaraghavan said that the portfolios would be decided by the CM.

Ally CPI, the second-largest party in the state, will have four members in the cabinet while Kerala Congress (M), Janata Dal (S) and Nationalist Congress Party will have one representative each, he said.

The CPM members in Vijayan’s cabinet include M.V. Govindan, K. Radhakrishnan, K.N. Balagopal, P. Rajeev, V.N. Vasavan, Saji Cherian, V. Sivankutty, Riyas, R. Bindu, Veena George and V. Abdul Rahman.

M.B. Rajesh will be the Speaker while N. Jayaraj will be the chief whip of the LDF.

Also read: After facing criticism, EC to set up panel to look into shortcomings during recent polls


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