Kannur: Did the power struggle among senior CPM leaders in Kannur cost K K Shailaja a berth in the new Pinarayi Vijayan cabinet? A section in the CPM feels so.
The dissatisfaction among some leaders over candidates for the Assembly polls led to the dropping of Shailaja from the second Pinarayi cabinet, they felt.
While denying her a cabinet position, the CPM did not consider her performance as the Minister for Health, and the thumping majority she had won in the election.
The decision for an all-new cabinet, barring the chief minister, was made not just to bring in young blood, but also to sideline Shailaja, her supporters felt.
Projected as the future chief minister, Shailaja’s handling of the health department was one of the factors that helped LDF win a consecutive second term. It was her popularity that made CPM to field her, despite the party benching several other prominent leaders.
Shailaja’s candidature helped LDF in winning women votes beyond political preferences. Several senior leaders were averse to fielding her at Mattannur, earlier held by E P Jayarajan.
Shailaja was given Mattannur since her constituency, Koothuparamba, was handed over to the Loktantrik Janata Dal. CPM’s two-term norm prevented Jayarajan from contesting again.
It has been said that a section of leaders, who had been opposed to Shailaja contesting from Mattannur, was behind the backdoor operations that prevented her from being drafted into the cabinet.
Those supporting Shailaja said the absence of strong arguments for her in the state committee pointed at a concerted move to sideline her.
Shailaja got news at CPM state secretariat
The omission came as a shock to several members of the CPM’s state secretariat and state committee. Some of them masked their feelings, and declared solidarity with the party, while praising its daring move. Four state secretariat members opposed the party decision.
Voices of opposition to the party decision were also heard in the state committee, with less than 10 leaders, including P Jayarajan and M V Jayarajan from Kannur, expressing their displeasure. The dissent, however, was not put to vote since they had opposed it saying they would abide by the party decision.
The international attention Shailaja had gained through her deft handling of the COVID-19 situation, and her popularity that cut across party lines helped her win Mattannur by a record margin of more than 60,000 votes. The popularity also made her a star in the CPM.
Shailaja was also one the three central committee members elected to the Assembly, and a woman member in the CPM’s parliamentary party leadership.
A meeting of politburo members from Kerala, however, decided against including Shailaja in the cabinet. The meeting felt that drafting Shailaja alone from the outgoing cabinet would amount to injustice to other dropped ministers.
The politburo also considered the party’s two-term norm that barred leaders from contesting the polls for a third consecutive time. In this backdrop, the politburo decided against giving another term to only one leader.
Politburo members Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, S Ramachandran Pillai and M A Baby also accepted Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s suggestion for constituting a new team.
Shailaja came to know of the development only after Balakrishnan announced the politburo’s suggestion in the state secretariat. She remained silent even as a few leaders suggested the party to hear her opinion before finalizing the decision. They argued that she had made immense contributions to help the CPM and LDF win a second consecutive term.
The minister listened nonchalantly when a few members of the state committee argued for her. She knew that party would not change its decision.
Leaders leaving the AKG Centre after the meetings faced the same question that has been reverberating across Kerala: “Why was the teacher excluded?”
The teacher, as Shailaja is fondly called, for once, removed the face mask and responded to the question with a smile, before leaving the party’s state headquarters.