Excluding KK Shailaja: CPI(M)'s behind-the-scenes reasoning

The state committee meeting went on for hardly two hours, indicating that Pinarayi’s decision was accepted without any opposition.
A collage of KK Shailaja and Pinarayi Vijayan
A collage of KK Shailaja and Pinarayi Vijayan
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On May 18, as the CPI(M) state committee met to decide which 12 MLAs from the party would become ministers, it was expected that a few of the ministers from Pinarayi’s first cabinet would not find a place in the new one. However, what awaited people was an unexpected announcement — KK Shailaja, the popular face of the Kerala government, a minister credited with exemplary work during the Nipah virus outbreak and COVID-19 pandemic found no place in the cabinet.

The party’s official explanation is this- No old timers will be repeated. This means former ministers like KK Shailaka, MM Mani, AC Moideen and TP Ramakrishnan will not make it to the cabinet. Apparently, a few in the party said that giving KK Shailaja an exception would not look good for the party. Therefore, 12 new faces were chosen to become ministers, including first time MLAs like Mohammed Riyas and R Bindu.

Anger and disappointment

The announcement has led to much anger and disappointment. Though Pinarayi Vijayan was the face of the LDF’s campaign, much of their focus was on how Kerala performed when Nipah and COVID-19 outbreaks happened. That KK Shailaja won with a landslide margin is a testament to her popularity. The party’s explanation that old faces will not be repeated has not cut much ice with many who are asking why can’t a minister be repeated if the Chief Minister remains the same.

No one questions Pinarayi

Immediately after the party’s decision was announced, a flurry of reactions followed. Unsurprisingly, CPI(M) and its allies were unflinching in their support of the decision. Though national leaders of the CPI(M) are reported to be unhappy with the decision, the reactions from most leaders including Brinda Karat have been mild, claiming that the state committee should explain the decision. But with the party decimated in West Bengal, the national leadership is perhaps not in a position to question Pinarayi.

The state committee meeting went on for hardly two hours, indicating that Pinarayi’s decision was accepted without any opposition.

This isn’t the first time that Pinarayi has brought in such rules. Prior to elections, he said that those MLAs who have contested and won twice will not be given a ticket for the third time. This is the reason why former ministers like Thomas Isaac did not contest this time. The latest ‘rule’ is that no ministers will be repeated.

Sources in the party say in the state committee a few people did ask whether it would be prudent to exclude KK Shailaja, but there was no opposition when they were told that the rule would apply for all. Some sources told TNM that the rule was brought in to exclude Shailaja whose popularity is growing. Other sources however denied this outright.

What is the logic behind the rule?

In 1963, K Kamaraj, who was then the sitting Chief Minister of Madras state, proposed that all senior Congress leaders holding ministerial office resign and instead take up party work. In turn, those who were in the organisation would join the government. The Kamaraj Plan, as it came to be known, was mooted following Congress’ defeat in three successive bye-elections in 1963. At the time, all Union Ministers and Chief Ministers handed in their resignations to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who had also offered to quit but was held back by Kamaraj. Despite his entire cabinet offering to quit, Nehru eventually accepted the resignations of six Union Ministers — Morarji Desai, S K Patil, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Jagjivan Ram, K L Shrimali and B Gopala Reddy. The CMs of Madras, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Kashmir also resigned to help rejuvenate the Congress. 

While Kamaraj’s logic was to revive the party, the CPI(M) has given no logic as to why ministers cannot be repeated. Does it impact their performance? Then why does the Chief Minister get a chance?

Party not personality

Many CPI(M) leaders told the media that the party’s decision was also a kind of affirmation that the party is supreme and the victory in the elections was for the government’s performance and not an individual's. The party seems to have, however, not taken into account the sentiments of lakhs of people who believed in not just Pinarayi’s, but Shailaja’s leadership capabilities too.

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