In a representative democracy, it makes no sense to drop a high performing woman minister when so few women have been groomed for eligibility.

A file image of KK Shailaja being garlanded by an old woman
news Opinion Tuesday, May 18, 2021 - 19:43

The paradox of Kerala is that it leads the country in gender equity socially, while being one of the worst in the political representation of women at the state level. In this context, with India being constitutionally a representative democracy, it has come as a shocker to many that KK Shailaja, who was Health Minister in the previous term of the LDF, has been shunted out of the cabinet.

Shailaja Teacher, as she's known, was not only praised within India for her handling of COVID-19, as the Kerala data shows, but internationally as well. When a  rockstar minister who was deftly running the state at a time of arguably its worst health crises, both Nipah and COVID-19, is dropped unceremoniously, it begs the question:  Is Shailaja Teacher being punished for her success?

Some argue that the entire ministry has been renewed, and that it isn't her cross to bear. That argument fits to the tee for dropping male cabinet ministers. The ministry that was 18/21 men. In a representative democracy, it makes no sense to drop a high performing woman minister when so few women have been groomed for eligibility.

The reason to call out her demotion specifically is that the LDF election campaign and mandate, amplified her accomplishments specifically. Kerala's satisfaction and the renewal of the government's rule were derived significantly from her handling of Nipah and COVID-19; her execution, efficiency, approachability and crisis management.

Others argue that she has been made the Party Whip, which is a key post, plus no woman has ever held it. No doubt, the Party Whip is a cabinet level post. However, a minister runs the state, while the whip only shepherds the legislative party.  One runs the government, the other ensures smooth functioning of the legislature. A cabinet minister is unparalleled, except for the Chief Minister. A whip is largely a party post.

While no woman has been Chief Whip, no woman has been CM either.

Oddly, there have been claims that she is being prepared for Chief Ministership, and hence the decision.  If so, there cannot be a better reason to award her not just Health but Home Ministry and groom her as the successor.

Equally strange are claims that she was avoided to preclude a personality cult; well, Pinarayi Vijayan's is the pre-eminent cult to nullify then!

No argument can pass the buck for this decision beyond Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. While he is elected by his party as CM, his Cabinet is his own choice.

And, he asking Shailaja Teacher to step down, despite her extraordinary achievements as minister and bringing home an electoral win for the party is a penalty, when a pat on the back was overdue. It is a deception for he not only relied on her to wade through crisis after crisis and banked on her achievements for the LDF/CPI (M) mandate, but penalised her for success. While he took care to induct new MLAs in the cabinet, where is the balance on gender? Though three women ministers are part of the new cabinet, it is nowhere an equal representation. One would expect a progressive Chief Minister to recognise the lack of women in governance, and ensure that KK Shailaja is not dropped, and in fact, that many more are groomed.

Tara Krishnaswamy is the co-founder of Shakti - Political Power to Women, a non-partisan grassroots  group campaigning for more women MLAs and MPs. She is co-founder of Citizens for Bengaluru, a citizens movement for a sustainable Bengaluru. She tweets at @tarauk.

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