Vijayan elected CPI (M) Parliamentary party leader,Shailaja's omission creates flutter

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Eds: Adds details Thiruvananthapuram, May 18 (PTI) CPI (M) veteran Pinarayi Vijayan was on Tuesday elected its Parliamentary Party Leader for a second term as Kerala Chief Minister but the omission of health minister KK Shailaja, who played a leading role in the state's fight against Covid-19, from the new cabinet created a flutter.

Vijayan's coalition government will have a fresh look with 11 new CPI (M) members, including his son-in-law P A Mohammed Riyas, national president of DYFI, in a reflection of the party's attempt to infuse fresh blood in the ministry.

CPI(M) will have 12 members including Vijayan. CPI and Kerala Congress (M), who are among the other constituents of the Left Democratic Front (LDF), also named new faces-- four and one, respectively, to represent their parties in the cabinet.

The 77-year-old Vijayan's election comes days after he led the ruling LDF to a stupendous victory in the April 6 Assembly polls, where the alliance won 99 of the 140 seats.

However, Shailaja's non-inclusion led to a debate and many eyebrows were raised over the matter.

Having won global accolades for her deft handling of the first wave of Covid-19 in Kerala which saw the country's first case in 2020, Shailaja's surprise omission drew instant comparisons with the late KR Gowri Amma, the firebrand Marxist once tipped to head Kerala but never did.

However, Shailaja, described as a 'rockstar health minister' by a section of international media, said she was not disappointed at being denied berth in the new cabinet.

'There is no need to be emotional..I became the minister earlier because of the party's decision. I have absolute satisfaction in what I have done. I am confident that the new team can perform better than me,' she said.

'Not the individual but the system is showcasing the fight against the pandemic. I am happy that I could lead the team,' the leader added.

She was, however, made party whip, a CPI(M) statement said here, even as the party insisted that all members except the Chief Minister should be fresh faces in the new cabinet.

The party's state committee nominated 11 freshers including two women as its ministers in the new government which would be sworn-in on May 20 at the Central Stadium here in adherence to Covid-19 protocol.

The state committee, which met at its headquarters AKG Centre, elected Vijayan to lead the party.

Vijayan had scripted history in the April 6 Assembly polls by leading the LDF to a consecutive term, bucking the over 40 year-old trend of the state voters choosing between the Communists and Congress-led governments alternatively.

Though it was almost sure that no outgoing ministers would find a place in Vijayan's new cabinet, Shailaja was expected to be given an exemption by CPI (M), as the state is reeling under the second wave of the pandemic.

She had won the polls with the highest margin of 60,963 votes from Mattannur in Kannur.

The media, during the election, had even projected her as the first woman chief minister of the state in future.

Belying all expectations, Shailaja was not included in the new ministry.

Hailed by the global media for her able leadership, effective crisis management and matured intervention in arresting the first wave of Covid-19 in the state, her non- inclusion raised many eyebrows cutting across party lines.

A retired school teacher, she had done a commendable job in containing the covid surge in the state last year and also during the Nipah virus outbreak in 2018 and 2019.

Social media users responded sharply to the omission of the 64-year-old leader, popularly known as 'Shailaja Teacher' or 'Teacher Amma' among her admirers.

They pointed out that it would not be good to change her as Kerala was witnessing an unprecedented surge in covid cases in the second wave.

Many put up her photos as their WhatsApp status, in an apparent act of extending solidarity with her.

Some compared Shailaja being dropped from the cabinet with the manner in which late Gowri Amma was allegedly denied chief ministership in the last minute in 1987.

Though projected as a CM candidate during the then elections, Gowri Amma was allegedly sidelined by the party which preferred E K Nayanar for the top post.

Though critics and media alleged that Shailaja was sidelined, CPI(M) took the position that all ministers except the CM should be fresh faces in the new cabinet.

Same was the case with T M Thomas Isaac, Finance Minister in the outgoing cabinet, among others who had not been given a chance as they were elected twice consecutively, party sources said.

The dropping of Isaac, a known Left intellectual and a finance management expert, had also come as a shock for many including grassroot level party workers.

Sources said the party wanted to evolve a second generation of leaders in parliamentary politics and give them more serious opportunities.

They also claimed that the new cabinet would be a right blend of experienced seniors and youngsters.

Party central committee member M V Govindan, former Rajya Sabha MPs P Rajeev and K N Balagopal, senior leaders K Radhakrishnan, V N Vasavan, Saji Cheriyan and V Sivankutty are among those inducted in Vijayan's second cabinet.

Veena George and R Bindhu will be the women members.

Bindhu is the wife of CPI(M) acting secretary A Vijayaraghavan.

The state committee meeting, chaired by senior leader Elamaram Kareem, picked M B Rajesh, who wrested the Thirthala seat from Congress's V T Balaram, as the party nominee for the post of Speaker.

CPI (M) ally CPI also nominated fresh faces to the cabinet. Newly elected MLAs K Rajan, P Prasad, J Chinchu Rani and G R Anil were its pick for the coalition government.

Senior CPI and Adoor MLA Chittayam Gopakumar has been nominated to the post of deputy speaker, the party said.

Vijayan had earlier said that a decision has been taken to form a 21-member government, with CPI (M), CPI and KC-M nominating 16 members today.

As there are restrictions to accommodate more than 21 members in the cabinet, the LDF has decided to share the ministerial berths to four of its allies, having a single MLA, on a term basis, Vijayan had said. PTI LGK TGB ROH SA BN BALA BN BALA

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