What the exclusion of KK Shailaja says about the Kerala CPM
Continuity of government (thudar bharanam) was the slogan that the Democratic Left Front launched in the Assembly elections in Kerala. Voters approved it and re-elected the LDF with an enhanced majority – the last time they did so was in 1977. But the Pinarayi team taking the oath today represents a break with the past. – with the exception of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, and former People’s Minister and President, K Radhakrishnan, 14 of the 16 ministers of the CPM and the IPC are new to the government. The shocking omission is that of KK Shailaja, who held the health portfolio in the previous government and led the response to Covid-19. The heated debate around his absence led to the inclusion in the cabinet of the son-in-law of the CM, the national president of DYFI PA Muhammed Riyas, and of the wife of the head of the LDF and acting secretary of state of the CPM, R Bindu , to go relatively unnoticed.
This election took place against the backdrop of the Nipah epidemic, two devastating floods and the pandemic that had deprived lakhs of jobs and income. People have become more dependent on the welfare of the state and public goods. The government has not abandoned them. He provided food kits and improved well-being and boarding, on time. This has enabled vulnerable segments of the population to experience the crisis while preserving their self-respect. The LDF election campaign revolved around this story. It was too damning a story for allegations of corruption and nepotism, or questions of faith, to sway voters.
The machinery of the CPM told the story of Sarkar’s ordeal, survival and care through the face of the CM, reshaped as a captain. During the lockdown, Pinarayi Vijayan had transformed into a benevolent patriarch who gave reassurance to an apathetic population locked in their homes. Despite being the face of government during Nipah and in the early days of Covid, Shailaja retreated to the background as Vijayan featured prominently on TV screens. But people were talking about it: its quiet efficiency and visible compassion were admired by people, especially women, in a state where governance is seen as the stronghold of men. His sober demeanor and empathetic responses were an antidote to the aggression and bureaucracy that defined public communication.
Although she is reasonably superior in the party hierarchy – she is a member of the central committee – it is as a minister that Shailaja, or Master Amma, has found acceptance throughout Kerala. She might have been the right person at the right time, but her popularity may have bothered many in the party. And for the same reason, his absence was interpreted by a representative sample of Kerala as a petty act of the party patriarchs. Well-known actresses have launched hashtag campaigns and left-wing public intellectuals have registered their disappointment.
An unspoken tension has built up between party lines and the government since Vijayan’s ascension to the CM office. Historically, the PMC CM and the party secretary have been parallel centers of power, which at best has benefited both offices. The party acted as the voice of the people while the CM represented the state and its interests. This tension defined the political character of government and held in check the interests of the bureaucracy, crony capitalism and regressive social groups. Today the authority of the party has diminished and the role of the organization is reduced to mere government approval. The party is now an extension of Vijayan’s character.
The electoral campaign reflected this new context. It was carefully organized to project the CM as a father figure who provided for the state in times of crisis. Unusually for a left-wing election campaign, rallies, banners and posters only featured his face and the candidate – those absent included Marx, Engels, Lenin, P Krishna Pillai, AKG, EMS. VS, the face of CPM campaigns for nearly two decades, was conspicuous by its absence on campaign material. Unsurprisingly, the party interpreted the verdict as a vote only for Vijayan. Other factors, including Shailaja’s popularity or the good work done by ministers (Thomas Isaac and G Sudhakaran, for example) who ran the ministries of finance, public works and education, were overlooked as that side plots in an epic tale centered on a single hero.
Anecdotal evidence from the campaign suggests that the subplots played a big role in drawing non-partisan voters to the LDF tent. Of course, the expansion of the LDF’s social base was made possible by the entry of a congressional faction from Kerala, the CPM’s support for the anti-CAA movement and, ironically, the anti-Muslim remarks by some leaders. of the CPM. These, along with the collapse of the UDF as a broad front with clear leadership and vision and a discredited BJP, contributed to the LDF’s victory. But for a substantial number of voters, a vote for the LDF was an endorsement of the performance of the Vijayan cabinet. They voted for continuity and were waiting for Shailaja in the ministry.
This independent CPM sponsor is angry today. In 2006, she spoke for VS when her leadership claim was ignored. The party then nodded. In fact, she was the reason the assembly elections became polls the DFL lost – until the 1990s the left won assembly polls largely on negative votes against. Congress and its allies. The party’s focus on mass politics, civic engagement such as the literacy movement, Kudumbashree, volunteer work during the floods and pandemic, has broadened its support among sections that do not vote along ideological lines. . These supporters, not to be confused with executives, helped the LDF almost win a second term in 2011 – it lost its functions by two seats. To judge their outburst as emotional conforms to the macho image of the party apparatchiks, but it is surely out of step with the feeling of the street.
It is equally wrong to ignore voices that warn of the patriarchal attitudes prevalent in Kerala politics. It is disturbing that a 21-member ministry in a state where women make up over 50% of the population has only three female ministers, one more than in the past, and one Dalit. It is unfortunate that a woman who excelled as an administrator had to make way for a new face.
In a social media chat, when female CPM supporters criticized Shailaja’s exclusion from Cabinet, a male comrade responded with a Malayalam meme. He said: “For a week Kerala will see screams and moans. Subsequently, its intensity will decrease and the storm will weaken. “
Misogyny aside, unfortunately there may be some grain of truth to the meme.
This column first appeared in the print edition on May 20, 2021 under the title “Excluding Teacher Amma”. [email protected]