The 21-member Kerala Cabinet, comprising mostly first-time ministers, took charge on Thursday. Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan administered the oath of office and secrecy to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the rest of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) ministers.
The cabinet includes 17 ministers for the first time, including three women. This includes 12 ministers from CPI(M), four from CPI, and one each from Kerala Congress(M), Indian National League (INL), Democratic Kerala Congress (DKC), NCP and Janata Dal (Secular).
The LDF is a coalition of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI (M)), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and a host of regional parties in Kerala .
The ministers took oath in a grand ceremony on a purpose-built stage, carpeted in a shade of red and decorated with red flowers at the central stadium in Thiruvananthapuram. A music video featuring AR Rahman, KJ Yesudas and other prominent musicians was shown before the swearing-in ceremony.
“It could be a low-key affair. We are in the middle of a pandemic. And a government that is tight for money should avoid spending so much on a swearing-in ceremony,” said J Prabhash, former pro-vice chancellor of the University of Kerala and political analyst.
This is the first time since 1977 that a governing coalition that has completed a full term has been voted into power. And Pinarayan Vijayan became the first chief minister to complete a full term and be re-elected. In 1977, K.Karunakaran replaced C. Achutha Menon as the prime minister when the coalition returned to power.
Vijayan held his first cabinet meeting on Thursday and announced some government initiatives for the next five years. Vijayan said the government would remove extreme poverty from the state in the next five years.
The Chief Minister said that the secretaries of the local government department have been directed to conduct a detailed survey in this regard to determine the factors of distress and submit suggestions.
Vijayan also announced that the state government will introduce legislation to prevent the loss of housing through foreclosure proceedings. The cabinet has directed a committee comprising two senior IAS officers and an expert lawyer to study the issue and submit a report by July 15.
“Further steps will be initiated based on that report,” Vijayan said.
The swearing-in was attended by CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, LDF leaders, former ministers in the LDF government and other prominent personalities from various walks of life. The opposition parties have decided to stay away from the ceremony due to the prevailing COVID situation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the new minister in a tweet.
On Thursday morning, Pinarayi Vijayan and the CPI(M)-designated minister, and CPI paid tribute to the martyrs of the Punnapra-Vayalar uprising. Paying homage to the Punnapra-Vayalar martyrs before taking the oath is a tradition followed by the communist parties since 1957 when the first communist party government led by EMSNamboothirippad came to power.
The oath has had more than its share of controversies. The LDF had received flak for the delay in cabinet formation. Initially, the plan was to invite 750 guests for the swearing-in ceremony, which was reduced to 500 after public outrage.
The Kerala High Court refused to set aside the state government’s decision to hold the swearing-in ceremony. However, the court had directed the state government to strictly adhere to the Covid-19 protocol and suggested the government to consider measures to reduce the number of guests.
Similarly, the CPI(M)’s decision not to include former health minister KK Shailaja had angered the general public. And many took to social media to vent their frustration at their exclusion. Shailaja was elected with a historic margin of 60,000 votes, the highest margin ever in any Kerala assembly election.
And his handling of the Nipah outbreak and the first wave of COVID-19 had earned him applause from the entire world. CPI(M) had decided not to give a second term to any minister of the party who was part of the previous LDF government, except Pinarayi Vijayan. The CPI(M) had earlier decided not to field members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) who have completed two consecutive terms. This decision kept 33 sitting MLAs, including former finance minister Thomas Isaac out of the fray.
“A cabinet especially with fresh faces will not help the government. They also need people with experience. And by not inducting a senior leader like Shailaja, the question of who will lead the party in 2026 has been left unanswered. they had induced. her, she might have sent a message that she is the second in command,” said Prabhash.
Kerala-based journalist and political analyst Nidheesh MK said CPI(M) is trying to bring about a generational change in both the party and the government. “There are 17 first-term ministers and 10 of them are first-time MLAs, a rarity.”
“There are 17 first-term ministers and 10 of them are first-term MLAs. This happened for the first time after the first communist government came to power in 1957.”
The inclusion of Pinarayii Vijayan’s son-in-law PA Mohammed Riyas and R.Bindu, wife of LDF convener A. Vijayaraghavan also raised eyebrows.
“There are more experienced legislators than Riyas and Bindu. Both are first-time MLAs, and they are yet to show their corruption as legislators; neither do they bring any domain expertise,” Prabhash said.
However, some defended the decision saying that Riyas and R. Bindu had a long public life before being chosen as ministers.
“Then Riyas and R.Bindu broke the glass ceilings in their own way. Riyas has been a party worker since his school days. He gladly took every responsibility that the party entrusted to him. He contested an election very before marrying Vijayan’s daughter. , who lost narrowly. In a way, he had worked all his adult life for the party. And, finally, when he gets a post, people say nepotism,” said Nidheesh.
“There are many male MLAs whose wives have positions in the party. No one says that they got their positions because of their spouses. Nepotism is when you give undue preference to someone, when someone is parachuted in. I think that some named editors comment.without understanding the organizational culture of CPI(M).
Regarding Shailajs exclusion, Nidheesh said CPI(M) could have embraced her popularity and made her an exception.
“I would have wanted Shailaja as the chief minister of Kerala either now or in 2026. If she does not have ministerial responsibility this time, she will have no achievement to show. And there will be no skin in the game to ask. for a ticket in 2026 unless CPI(M) feels the need to promote her,” Nidheesh said.
“But I don’t think it is irreplaceable. KK Shailaja’s popularity is a product of the CPI(M) and the public health system of Kerala. He did not invent the public health system of Kerala nor the Communist Party of Kerala” .