THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The CPM may have committed its second “historical blunder”, after turning down the Prime Ministership for veteran leader Jyoti Basu two decades ago. It has scuttled the chance of former health minister and senior CPM leader KK Shailaja winning the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2022.
It has been learnt that the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation had zeroed in on Shailaja for the 64th Magsaysay award for her commitment and service towards ensuring an accessible public health system and effectively leading from the front to manage the Nipah and Covid-19 outbreaks in the state. Kerala had won global recognition for its effective handling of the Nipah outbreak and the Covid pandemic during her tenure.
Shailaja was prominently featured by various national and international media, which had highlighted how a small state at the southern tip of India has been ably fighting the pandemic in a scientific manner.
The public announcement of the award was supposed to be made by the end of August this year. The foundation had apparently cross-checked with a few prominent independent people in the country after she was nominated.
Highly placed sources in the national capital told TNIE that the foundation first verified with Shailaja during an online interaction and later intimated her of the award, towards the end of July.
In its e-mail to the former minister, notifying her of being selected for the international honour, the foundation asked her to convey her willingness to accept the award, in writing. The foundation had also scheduled a slew of other award-related activities from September to November 2022.
It’s reliably learnt that Shailaja, being a central committee member of the CPM, consulted the party leadership about the same. The leadership looked at different aspects of the award, and decided against her accepting the same.
The party felt that as health minister, Shailaja was merely doing her duty entrusted to her by the party.
In addition, the state’s efforts in fighting the Nipah outbreak and the Covid pandemic were part of a collective movement and therefore she need not accept the award in her individual capacity.
Following this, Shailaja wrote to the foundation expressing her inability to accept the award. It’s also learnt that the party decided against her receiving the award as it was in the name of Magsaysay who was known for putting down Communist guerillas. The CPM felt that accepting such an award would backfire in the long run.
While CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury was unavailable for comment, Shailaja refused to respond to queries on the award. The Ramon Magsaysay Award, widely regarded as the Nobel Prize of Asia, is a prestigious international honour, named after the late Philippines president.
She would have been the first Keralite woman to receive Magsaysay
The award is given to individuals and organisations for selfless service to society in various fields.
Had the party been in favour of Shailaja accepting the award, she would have been the fifth Keralite to get the honour after Verghese Kurien, M S Swaminathan, B G Verghese and T N Seshan. It would have been after a quarter of a century that the award would have come to Kerala shores.
Also, she would have been the first Keralite woman to receive the same, had the party decided otherwise. It would also have been the first time that the award would have been bagged by a serving politician.
She would also have been part of a legendary pantheon of leaders and social reformers like Vinoba Bhave, Mother Teresa and Jayaprakash Narayan, but the party begged to differ. It would indeed have been a major recognition for Kerala as well as for both the state government under Pinarayi Vijayan and the CPM.