THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Health Minister KK Shailaja, who became the face of Kerala in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, has come up victorious in yet another battle — this time political.
While her victory from Mattannur assembly constituency in Kannur came as no surprise, the record victory margin of over 61,000 votes showed that the extra votes came as a recognition of her performance as a minister.
The political journey of the 64-year-old former physics teacher from Kannur, who made her assembly debut 25 years ago, has been phenomenal in the last five years when the world took a closer look at the unassuming health minister of Kerala.
The public health crisis brought the best out of her — first in tackling the Nipah virus outbreak in 2018 and Covid-19 two years later. Both novel crises have tested the public health system and Shailaja has been credited rightly for her leadership.
If there was one minister in the Pinarayi Vijayan government who was seen tackling the challenges head on, it was Shailaja. She is credited for her foresight in preparing the state and her ability to communicate the decisions to the public.
It was she who started the daily briefing when the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the country, in Thrissur, last year. Her matter-of-fact action plans were keenly observed and readily followed by the public.
She was the star campaigner in the ‘Break the Chain’ campaign initiated by the government to contain the pandemic.
In the initial months of the first wave of the pandemic, the success in the state located in the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent in flattening the curve in less than 100 days after the first case was reported widely. Restricting the number of deaths due to the pandemic gained her world-wide attention.
Though Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took over the mantle in crisis management later, the health minister continued to represent the state in international meets on Covid-19 and received accolades for her leadership.
The international media gave her fancy titles such as “Coronavirus Slayer” and “Rock star health minister”, much to the discomfort of the Opposition parties.
She was nice to snide remarks made by them in her characteristic style. Congress state president Mullappally Ramachandran was one of the beneficiaries of her cool approach when he made personal attacks.
But such niceties were not reserved for IUML leader K M Shaji who faced an angry retort from her in the legislative assembly. He was cut to a sorry figure for questioning the leadership abilities of a woman chief minister (Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal) during a debate on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Her new-found stature raised expectations of her replacing Pinarayi as the chief minister. But she always had a readymade answer to quell such possibilities. Nevertheless, her victory has brought cheer among the medical community.
“It gives a lot of comfort to know that the plans against the pandemic will continue (under her leadership) in the way we are familiar with,” said a senior doctor.