By choosing 17 fresh faces in the new Council of Ministers of 21, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala is trying to signal a continuing willingness to evolve as a responsive political organisation. Barring Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the CPI(M) has not nominated any of its Ministers from the previous term. All four Ministers of the CPI are new. Eight Ministers are first time MLAs, as is the Speaker nominee, M.B. Rajesh. The composition of the Council broadly reflects the State’s social diversity; and there are three women , the highest in history. The CPI(M) has reconfigured its social base in Kerala, at significant cost to the Congress, and it is reinforcing those trends through the selection of Ministers. Veena George and Saji Cherian are being rewarded for leading a shift of Christian voters in Central Travancore to the party. A judicious mix of youth and experience, the Council is an attempt at messaging to the electorate a fresh resolve of the LDF, particularly the CPI(M). But the exclusion of K.K. Shailaja, who has been in the spotlight for her role as Health Minister, has set off criticism against the CPI(M) from many quarters, including its own support base. After having won with a huge margin, she was expected to provide continuity to the State’s fight against the pandemic. Her exclusion does seem like changing horses midstream. K.N. Balagopal and P. Rajeev have proven their mettle as parliamentarians and in the organisation. P.A. Muhammad Riyas happens to be Mr. Vijayan’s son-in-law, and R. Bindu the wife of CPI(M) Acting State Secretary A. Vijayaraghavan. Both merit inclusion in their own right.
The crowd of 500 expected at the swearing-in ceremony today is, however, bad optics, in the midst of a pandemic which remains untamed in the State that is in lockdown. The new government has more challenges — a cyclone rained misery in the coastal areas this week, and fears of floods loom along with the monsoon clouds. The State’s finances are in a shambles. The CPI(M) had replaced 22 sitting MLAs who had finished two terms with new candidates in the election. Several senior leaders were already benched by this criterion. The party subsequently decided to nominate only fresh faces to the Council by way of reiterating the primacy of the organisation over individuals. Ironically, the choices also raise valid concerns of the increasing concentration of power in the hands of Mr. Vijayan. In a Council packed with newcomers, the CM will command such authority that an open discussion on any topic could be difficult. Given his complete sway over the party and the government, the onus is on him to empower the Ministers. Officials whom he trusted put him and the party in a spot many times during the first term. By restoring political consultations, including within the CPI(M), and keeping the bureaucracy disciplined, Mr. Vijayan could make his second term better than the first.