New Delhi: KK Shailaja, former Kerala Health Minister, today denied any disappointment at being kept out of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s new cabinet, saying it was a “policy decision” of the party that she accepted.
After a historic win in the recent Kerala election, the CPM has decided to drop all previous ministers, including KK Shailaja or “Shailaja Teacher”, who won global recognition for her work in Covid management.
The new cabinet will have mostly first-time ministers, the Chief Minister being the exception.
Shailaja will be party Whip.
“It is a policy decision of our party. So according to that decision, I also decided to quit,” the 64-year-old told NDTV.
Acknowledging the outpouring on social media protesting against the decision, she said: “That’s all emotional.” She was a first-time minister too, she pointed out.
“Everyone… when they get a new responsibility they are freshers and newcomers. We have to give others a chance too. Here are so many workers in our party, if they get the opportunity, they will also work hard,” said Shailaja.
Besides, she said, she was not alone; no minister is being repeated.
On the last five years, Shailaja said she was proud of “facing challenges and difficult situations” and coming through.
“I am satisfied that I worked sincerely and worked hard with my colleagues. I had so many experiences…I had to face challenges and difficult situations – Covid, Nipah…But our government overcame them,” she said.
“It was all teamwork and I am satisfied with the teamwork. I have so many touching experiences in these five years…”
Those likely to be sworn in on Thursday include MV Govindan, K Radhakrishnan, KN Balagopal, P Rajeev, VN Vasavan, Saji Cherian, V Sivankutty, Mohd Riyas, Dr R Bindu, Veena George and V Abdul Rahman.
Shailaja’s exclusion has drawn a flood of comments on social media.
“Sorry to see Shailaja Teacher leave the Kerala cabinet. Aside from her reputed competence and efficiency, I always found her helpful, responsive and accessible as Health Minister, especially during the #Covid crisis. She will be missed,” tweeted Mr Tharoor, a Congress MP from Kerala.
Shailaja became a prominent face in the fight against the pandemic and was dubbed a “rockstar” health minister for her handling of Covid in Kerala.
In September, the UK-based Prospect magazine named her “Top Thinker of the Year 2020”.
In what was seen as a reflection of her popularity, Shailaja won by a record margin in her constituency.
Is it true that the RSS is not happy with the overall handling of the Corona crisis?” I asked a senior RSS functionary. His laconic reply: “But what can it do?” His answer sums up the state of affairs in the RSS. It is in a state of utter helplessness. The RSS leadership which, with lot of fanfare, decided to project Narendra Modi as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate in 2013 now finds itself feeling dejected.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent statement can be taken in that context. At an event meant to generate “positivity”, he said, “We are facing this situation because, whether it was the government, administration or public, everyone dropped their guard after the first wave despite indications from doctors”. He added, “We will not be scared. We shall stand like a rock.” Then he quoted from religious scriptures and talked about Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean) and how the churning produces nectar and poison. In his own style, he gave weight to the accusations of the Opposition that the Modi Government ignored the advice of the scientific community that a second wave of Corona would hit the country and it would be more lethal than the earlier one, but the Modi Government chose to ignore them, made no plan to contain the spread of the virus and that their priority was winning elections rather than saving lives.
The same day, another RSS leader, Ram Madhav, who till recently was serving as General Secretary of the BJP, and has now gone back to his original organisation, wrote a column for The Indian Express. If one reads between the lines, Madhav was critical of the government functioning. He wrote, “Initially, the government looked like ‘a deer in the headlights,’ as one commentator put it. But it has come out of that and is engaged full throttle in handling the challenge. A little more transparency, a little more engagement with the public by the political leadership and a little more openness to constructive criticism and enlightened expert opinion from outside the government would further help the government’s efforts. After all, the lives of millions of people are at stake.” Obliquely, he blamed the Modi government for the mess and spelt out the reasons including the lack of transparency. In the RSS, every word is uttered after much internal debate and discussion. Therefore, the words of Bhagwat and Madhav cannot be taken lightly or wished away as off-the-cuff remarks.
A BJP leader told me that that the top RSS leadership believes that the government has landed itself in a mess and this allows it to make a point that it has wanted to for some time: that the concept of collective leadership has been hijacked by the extreme centralization of the decision-making process so that even senior ministers are not consulted on crucial issues; only two people decide all matters. Those who were active in the organisation when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister feel that despite similar murmurs then, the government was at least open to suggestions, in particular from its ideological friends.
In 2014, Modi needed the RSS to win the election and become Prime Minister. And the RSS leadership felt that in Modi, they had found a perfect replacement to Advani, the original Hindu Hriday Samrat. Nobody could question his Hindutva. Since 2007, he had been busy branding himself as the Vikas Purush. Throughout the campaign, he did not utter a word which could be construed as ‘communal’. The RSS was ecstatic with his thumping victory, but forgot that during his regime in Gujarat, the RSS and its subsidiary organisations were reduced to non-entities. In Gujarat, it was either Modi or no one. If they thought that Modi at the Centre would be a different person, they were grossly mistaken.
Modi has undoubtedly ensured the fulfilment of the Hindutva agenda after becoming Prime Minister. He has ideologically enhanced its reach many times over. Today, Hindutva is the hegemonic ideology. The RSS is no longer considered untouchable as it was in the past. But Modi has also ensured that it is he who gets all credit, not the RSS or its chief. Even within the Sangh Parivar, it is Modi, not Bhagwat who is the presiding deity.
The RSS works on the concept of ‘follow the leader’; within the Sangh Parivar, the Sarsanghchalak is supreme, others have to follow him blindly. But Mohan Bhagwat, as the chief of the Parivar, falls short of that. Even K C Sudarshan, who was the RSS chief when Vajpayee was Prime Minister, carried a lot more weight. It was difficult for even Vajpayee to ignore him. Today, it’s not the same. Bhagwat has systematically been cut to size; he is no longer the supreme commander, he is one of many leaders of the Sangh Parivar. With the appointment of Dattatreya Hosabale as the Sar Karywah (General Secretary), the Number Two post in the RSS, Bhagwat has lost more authority within the organisation. It is for the first time that a leader who had not worked within the core of the ideological function of RSS has been appointed to that position. Hosabale spent more time in the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the RSS. He is considered close to Modi. And there are many who believe that with his appointment, Modi controls the RSS and Bhagwat is only a figure-head. It is not surprising that Hosabale has a different take than Bhagwat. Late last month, Hosabale said, “It is possible that destructive and anti-Bharat forces in the society can take advantage of these circumstances to create an atmosphere of negativity and mistrust in the country.”
At some other time, the RSS chief’s statement would have been taken as a warning signal by the government. Today, it carries no weight. And it makes no difference to those who are at the helm. Earlier, the ideology was the driving force, the RSS leadership was the engine, the moral force of the Sangh Parivar; now, it has been replaced by power politics. And politics is the guiding principle. This is the truth the RSS must contend with.