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KK Shailaja: Exit stage left

K.K. Shailaja was our heroine – fighting a deadly virus, and winning by all accounts. Her ill-timed ouster has come as a blow.

May 20, 2021 / 08:35 AM IST

Just when new-wave Malayalam cinema was slowly, slowly trying to rub out the rampant misogyny in the state with its unvarnished take on how it really is for women here, along comes the new cabinet with a composition that once again brings the state into direct feminist glare.

The recent demise of veteran politician K.R. Gowri Amma, who by the age of 102 had held many ministerial posts but was never the chief minister (CM), brought the Communist Party’s lack of inclusiveness back into prime-time discussions.

Much has been said, written and speculated about why she was never seen as chief-ministerial material. Gowri Amma herself has spoken out about it, in turns bitter and resigned. Everyone presumed she would be CM in 1987, but it was not to be. Caste or gender, no one knows. A bit of both is the general consensus. Plus, the popularity. The threat of overshadowing the powers that be, could derail any unwitting candidate.

Susheela Gopalan, another former minister never to be promoted to CM, was seen as another casualty of the Left’s manly games.

Also read: Why KK Shailaja did not find a spot in Pinarayi 2.0

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Yes, exclusions are inevitable when teams are under construction. But this time it is Shailaja Teacher - whom Vogue India magazine put on its cover, saluting her achievements as Kerala’s health minister as well as her being a woman. She effortlessly became a global icon following her brave fights with first the Nipah virus and now Covid in the state. She always seemed to be one step ahead of the pandemic somehow magically. Seen as a saviour, it has left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth to witness her being sidelined thus in the new regime.

That the cabinet has chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s son-in-law, P.A. Mohammad Riyas, is less worrying than the fact that from the old brigade Vijayan himself carries forward as CM. If fresh blood is what the party is baying for, then why not start at the top? Why pluck out the one person who got you the maximum votes in her constituency, who is on top of her game and has all eyes on her as she walks towards the exit? The Left’s mask has come off, its patriarchal mindsets exposed for all to see.

Also read: Pinarayi Vijayan-led Cabinet assumes office in Kerala today, new faces to get key portfolios

This decision has cost Vijayan a revised assessment from his people. That he could be insecure, nepotistic, petty and chauvinistic is a fairly fresh angle. K.K. Shailaja was not just another minister in the old order, she was the shooting star in the sky that many were wishing upon. There’s a killer virus on the loose and she is the heroine of this film. We all need that woman who will dart towards sudden loud noises in the night or pick up the phone to hear some strange man breathe menacingly.

For women in politics anywhere in the world, there comes a time when they either toughen up and demand what is due to them or demurely accept that the men know best. Always a bridesmaid, never the bride, because brides, in this context, are always the bridegroom.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.

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