Opinion | Pinarayi can, Shailaja can't in CPM's patriarchal outpost

Opinion | Shailaja's nixing is CPM's savage harvest. Does it ring a bell?
K K Shailaja

The savage nixing of Kerala's popular Health Minister K K Shailaja from the next Pinarayi cabinet can only be explained by a dictum seeped in archaic considerations: The party reigns supreme over every other considerations. Absolutely right!

True, the CPM is entitled to decide its ministers. And it is the prerogative of the chief minister to allocate the portfolios.

So if all ministers were to be dropped, why were some of them asked to contest?

And why not dropping Pinarayi himself, if the party seeks to strictly adhere to its new-found love for fresh faces.

The CPM could have fielded others or fresh faces in the constituencies earlier represented by its popular ministers.

Opinion | Shailaja's nixing is CPM's savage harvest. Does it ring a bell?
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Health Minister K K Shailaja.

K K Shailaja was made to contest from a CPM bastion of Matannur, from where any faceless party candidate would have romped home in the Assembly polls.

Shailaja had emerged as the darling of the masses, national and international media for her deft handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. She won by a record margin, indicating her immense popularity.

Now, popularity isn't music to the CPM. Instead, sometimes it turns out to be a breeding ground for rivals, especially in politics.

It is easy to recall the CPM's aversion to popularity from its own history book – examples being late K R Gouri and former Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan himself. And its affection to a patriarchal hierarchy was never in doubt.

K R Gouri was touted as the CM candidate in 1987 by CPM cadres across the state in the run-up to the assembly polls.

True, the CPM never made any such announcement, but gladly basked in the connect the masses had with the idea of K R Gouri Amma as the potential CM.

After polls though, the machinations within the CPM did K R Gouri in. This authoritarian moorings came into play again in the issue of V S Achuthanandan's candidature.

And in the case of P Jayarajan, who was seemingly fluttering above the party in its Kannur bastion.

Pinarayi was helming the party then and it is no secret how VS clinched the issue despite being at loggerheads with his one-time protege.

And it ain't a secret that VS himself had been tagged with such authoritarian streak while he was the all-powerful party state secretary.

Opinion | Shailaja's nixing is CPM's savage harvest. Does it ring a bell?
Former Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan.

So the issue with popularity outside the confines of party apparatus is that it can have the template to disturb the party hierarchy, which does not sway to popular tunes.

This could be one plausible explanation for the treatment meted out to K K Shailaja now.

Shailaja is the central committee member of the CPM, though not a politburo member.

If Shailaja is allowed to continue, she might ride on the wave of popularity till the next Assembly elections.

Make no mistake, Pinarayi Vijayan himself has made it clear that the two-term norm would be applicable for him in the next polls.

Which means he won't be contesting. There could be other contenders. Yes, others.

COVID-19 vaccination
Kerala Health Minister observes COVID-19 vaccine rehearsal at the District Hospital, Peroorkada, Thiruvananthapuram. Photo: Manoj Chemancheri

So, by allowing K K Shailaja to continue, the CPM doesn't want the ghosts of yore –- the demon of popularity – to return and haunt it.

As a true comrade, K K Shailaja has accepted the party decision.

Which means there won't be any murmurs of dissent within the party or revolt of cadres, unlike in the case of VS.

The issue is settled, but the CPM is treading through a dangerous authoritarian path as it takes up the mantle of the state for a second time in a row.

Because, there are enough factors in play to feed this vulnerability in the state.

There is no credible opposition, with the Congress still scrambling for reasons of its poll drubbing while refusing to reinvent itself.

The BJP is paralysed after it vote share plunged to abysmal depths.

And within the CPM and the incumbent ministry, Pinarayi Vijayan is the absolute monarch.

Does it ring a bell, a la the CPM's horror show in West Bengal after a 35-year continuous reign by the Left Front.

It is tough not to see the Requiem from its former bastion of Bengal seeping into the CPM's edifice in Kerala in five years.

Pinarayi alone can silence this unsolicited resonance from Bengal and Tripura wading into the CPM's last outpost in India – Kerala.

Basking in the glory of its savage harvest, the CPM seems to have squandered its chances to project a woman as its CM candidate in the next Assembly election.

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