Here’s a quiz question for you. Which member of the Pinarayi Vijayan cabinet was interviewed by BBC on measures to combat COVID-19? Here’s a clue. Her ministerial role was played in the movie Virus by actress Revathi. KK Shailaja fills the media airwaves.
The minister of health and social welfare is media-savvy. A former school teacher who taught physics, Shailaja has endeared herself to Keralites by explaining health issues in common man’s language. Nipah virus infections in the state thrust Shailaja into the media spotlight. Her leadership and communication skills helped tamp down the Nipah virus threat portrayed in Virus.
She has a proven record. A record that will catapult her to victory from Mattannur, which is a CPM stronghold.
The Nipah lessons helped when the coronavirus surfaced in Kerala. Shailaja put together a team to fight COVID-19, and their measures helped India's south-western state tackle the global pandemic far better than the rest of the subcontinent. That brought her global attention. The BBC interview followed. Epithets like "Rock Star health minister" and "coronavirus slayer" stuck, too.
How will she fare in the Kerala elections? "Shailaja teacher", as she is fondly called, will win hands down. That’s nothing to do with her party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). She has a proven record. A record that will catapult her to victory from Mattannur, which is a CPM stronghold. It’s a constituency in Kannur, where EP Jayarajan, the current minister for industries and sport, won with a margin of over 40,000 votes.
Shailaja, 65, grew up in Mattannur. Went to school and college there. Her husband, Bhaskaran, is a CPM official there. People know her. They love her. So her UDF rival Illikkal Augusthy of RSP doesn’t stand much of a chance.
But Shailaja is leaving nothing to chance. Having lost one of her three elections, she’s been campaigning hard and juggling ministerial duties. And she’s not averse to using Kerala’s COVID-19 success in her campaigns: “At a time even the most developed countries were helpless with increasing deaths, Kerala has a death rate of 0.4 per cent. This is our biggest achievement,” Shailaja said at a campaign stop.
True, Kerala owes much of the success against the pandemic to Shailaja teacher’s proactive leadership.