Going by that logic and laws of parliamentary democracy, Pinarayi Vijayan who is elected as the leader of the majority party or the majority coalition called LDF, has every right to select his colleagues, especially within his party.
As Kerala readied to welcome the Pinarayi Vijayan cabinet 2.0, the bigger talking point seemed to be the omission of former state health minister KK Shailaja. While reports and the CPI(M) choice of candidates had made it clear that the party will be giving preference to new faces over experience for ministerial berths, no one had any doubts that the health minister lovingly called ‘teacher amma,’ will resume work at the health ministry.
So it came as a shocker when Shailaja was excluded from the newly formed cabinet. It was widely believed that Kerala's better response to the pandemic, compared to other states was largely due to the foresight and initiatives of health minister Shailaja. While it is easy to be drawn in to the social media outcry a few things have to be taken into account. First and foremost is the fact that in a parliamentary form of government, it is the prerogative of the head of the government to select his team.
The Left Democratic Front is a coalition of parties--CPI (Marxist), CPI, NCP, Janata Dal, and Kerala Congress(Jose section)--with CPI (M) the lynchpin.
CPM has always been following an organizational principle in which when it comes to the formation of the state ministry, the decisions are made primarily based on the conclusions reached by the state committee and the state secretariat in addition to the inputs of the polit bureau members from that state.
From Kerala, there were four polit bureau members who proposed that all existing ministers should be replaced by new faces from within the Communist Party except the Chief Minister himself. So this is where the issue comes on whether the polit bureau members took such decision on their own initiative or it was Pinarayi Vijayan who influenced this decision making.
It should also be noted that Pinarayi Vijayan has been famously saying that people don’t know anything about the party dynamics which decides matters like ministerial berths. CPI(M) may be having dynamics to select its own nominees to be considered for the ministry. But the question most political observers and netizens are asking is whether it was party dynamics that decided the inclusions and exclusions or if the party has been hijacked by an authoritarian leader like has been the case in China and Russia as well.
Specifically coming to the case of K K Shailaja,the fact is that she won global acclaim for her ministry's role played in containing the COVID spread in the state, should have been taken in to account. Especially given the fact that her performance was instrumental in the return of Pinarayi Vijayan to power. Her inclusion was expected to give solidity to the government and continuity to the health ministry.
Pinarayi Vijayan, on his part, plainly said that it is the party decision and while he acknowledged Shailaja's contributions and competence, he pointed out that she and other ministers whose works were applauded were excluded as a result of a general consensus within the party.
The common people are asking if Vijayan is averse to any of his party colleagues overshadowing him and if this trait will, in turn, lead to prospective CM candidates within the party like EP Jayarajan or MV Jayarajan or P Jayarajan or Thomas Issac ,G Sudhakaran or M A Baby, being sidelined.
There is absolutely no doubt as to who the most popular person in the party was--Shailaja. The widely held view is that Pinarayi Vijayan would have seen Shailaja teacher as a potential candidate for the Chief Minister's seat in the not-so-distant future.
Pinarayi’s failure to give a proper answer to why the new-look ministry doesn’t have a new chief minister has not made it any better.
Also, a fact that should be highlighted here is the role of the strong Kannur lobby in the party. Seen as a red bastion, the district has had a disproportionate influence within the party. Howver, what came as surprise was that there was never any serious voice raised by this lobby in support of Shailaja. Even prior to the election there were rumours that she was not in the good books of the party after her sitting seat Koothuparamba was given to another party in the alliance. When she later emerged victorious with a victory margin of over 60,000 seats from the party bastion it was clear that she had become larger than the party.
However, there is another way to look at the situation. Pinarayi Vijayan who is 77 years old, is not in the pink of health. The chatter in political circles is that Vijayan would be again flying to the United States for further treatment and he may not be able to complete the term. Well in that case, there should be a reserve candidate as his replacement. And it could be Shailaja who may be brought back as the surprise nominee.
While argument is valid, what prevents Shailaja teacher from holding the ministerial birth from which she can graduate into the chief ministers chair. So whichever way one looks at it Shailaja teacher’s exclusion is a serious issue in Kerala's political dynamic and the shine of LDF government’s return to power is partially lost due to this particular issue.
It is also to be noted that KK Shailaja showed immense maturity and poise in the way in which she handled the issue. Unlike some of her predecessors like KR Gouri Amma or MV Raghavan her response has been of utmost restraint, even though the decision was a shock to her, adding to her image within and outside the party.
-About the author
Dr Mohan Varghese is a retired lecturer who is popular as an academician, writer, Public Speaker, Columnist, TV Presenter, Media Consultant etc.