In his work, Politics, Women and Well-Being: How Kerala Became a “Model”, Canadian academic Robin Jeffrey writes about K.R Gouri Amma, “She is unlikely to gain the prizes which, had she been a man, she might have expected. Her career stands as a warning against romanticising the place of women in Kerala”.
Because of the cautious calculation of electoral politics, parties are generally hesitant to nominate women for seats considered “winnable”, since these are mostly seen as male epicentres. According to BRP Bhaskar, a political onlooker and spokesman based in Chennai, mainstream politicians in Kerala have exhibited a patriarchal outlook in delegitimising women from legislative and management positions at the state level.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) circumvented the suspicions regarding anti incumbency and retained the office in May 2021. The people’s mandate was so strong that they chose to go on with the vanguards whom they believed, were exceptional during the crisis management, be it the floods, Nipah virus and the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic. The captain of the ship, as they call him, was none other than Pinarayi Vijayan. However, ‘mandate 2021’ is unarguably, highly known for the triumph of K K Shailaja, known lovingly as Teacheramma, gathering a prodigious majority in her constituency, Mattannur. How often do you see a woman coming out in such a resplendent and glorious manner?
Shailaja teacher was assigned the charge of the health ministry in the previous term of the LDF lead government. She confronted a multitude of challenges, including the Nipah outbreak in 2018 and the COVID-19 pandemic against which the war is still on. Shailaja teacher showed tremendous character in handling these crises. The health ministry made immense investments in the public health sector so as to keep them equipped to meet the challenges. The Nipah virus could have proven fatal, if not for the timely and effective interventions from the health ministry headed by Shailaja teacher. This deserves tremendous applause. Keeping the mortality rate low in such a densely populated state like Kerala is exemplary and honourable. We should not disregard the untiring efforts put in by the doctors, nurses, hospital staffs and bureaucrats as well. Coordinating this chain is arguably much more tedious than delivering press conferences everyday. Unsurprisingly, Shailaja teacher received international acclaim and was featured in prestigious media across the world. Which is exactly why, Shailaja teacher being ousted from holding a portfolio in LDF government’s second term has felt like a personal betrayal to many.
Shailaja teacher’s victory, we reckon, was indeed a source of happiness and inspiration for millions of women across the state. It reverbated with generations of women across the globe when she towered tall in calling out a sexist remark on women’s leadership in Kerala state assembly, as she asked: “Enda penninu kozhapam?” — “What if woman rules?” The people’s mandate was undoubtedly influenced by the work that Shailaja teacher tirelessly did on the ground. Of course, this is not to dismiss the impactful leadership displayed by Kerala’s chief minister as well. Upon criticism, bwhile oth Shailaja teacher and Pinarayi Vijayan asserted on how Left focuses on societal improvement, instead of pedestalising individualistic work, feminist concerns of how a woman of the stature of KK Shailaja being ousted have been raised emphatically too.
People trusted the process of crisis management well anchored by Shailaja teacher. Their mandate was indeed a call for the continuation of the same. Refraining from respecting the common sentiments is unbecoming for a party which holds progressiveness and socialist ideologies in its fold. At this point, we should not restrain ourselves from imagining the pressure on Veena George, the newly sworn-in Health Minister of Kerala.
Even though the argument has been “Party is above individual, period!”, it is imperative to realise the fact that people’s mandate is the fuel for a party’s existence. And it deserves to be respected. The truth is, as we have seen in CPI(M)’s history when it comes to the ousting of KR Gowriamma as well, deep-rooted patriarchy continues to exist. This time it is carefully concealed by glorifying the fact that 3 out of 21 Ministers are women. Hail gender equality.
In terms of the party’s members, the Chief Whip serves as the eyes and ears of the party’s leaders. Whip is derived from the term “Whippers-in” which refers to the people who look after the hounds and keep them together within the field. Party whips are considered to be akin to disciplinarians, in charge of the flock of people in the party. Probably what the party thought is the best fit for a person like Shailaja teacher.
KK Shailaja could be the living metaphor of late KR. Gouri Amma, who is remembered as the best chief minister that Kerala never had. Making this move at the height of a second wave of pandemic, apparently to accommodate entrants, is unjustifiable given how the health of millions of people is at risk.
Dear comrades, it is advisable to look back and introspect yourselves whether the ‘handbook of ideologies’ is forgetfully kept at the wrong place.
K Krishna Priya is an undergraduate student of literature at Ramjas college. She is a movie buff and relies on the spirit of music and dance. You can find her on Instagram.
Gopikrishnan V is an undergraduate student of Hindu College, University of Delhi. He tries to reflect issues of social and political relevance through his writings and penning down his thoughts for various online platforms. You can find him on Instagram.
Featured image source: Deccan Herald