Ministry or no, KK Shailaja remains a rockstar

“Now you are being clever. You want me to stand behind the gate so that the photograph becomes conceptual — ‘Shailaja is trapped because she does not have a ministry’. But I am not. So, I am not going behind the grill, but standing before it,” she tells IANS.

From authors to visitors, almost everyone wanted a selfie with her, with some hunting for pieces of paper to take her autograph. The laid-back Speakers’ Lounge at the recently concluded Kerala Literature Festival (KLF) held in Kozhikode was now in a frenzy — as if a rockstar had suddenly arrived.

But then, former Kerala’s former Health Minister K.K. Shailaja, who impressed everyone across the world with her handling of the Covid situation in Kerala during the first wave of the pandemic, with major publications, including fashion ones putting her on the cover had arrived, is nothing short of that.

While much to everybody’s shock, she was not given a ministry in spite of work as Health Minister, containing the Nipah virus outbreak in 2018 and the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and winning the Assembly election by the widest margin of any candidate.

“When I became a Minister, there were many partymen much senior to me. Still I was chosen. So it is fair enough that someone else was given the responsibility of the ministry the next time. I did my duty as the Health Minister, now I am doing party work. The point is there is no dearth of work. No matter what capacity we are in, the focus has to be on solving problems. To be honest, I fully respect the party’s decision,” says the MLA, who is also fondly addressed as ‘Shailaja Teacher’.

Stressing that it would be unfair to give credit to her alone for handling the situation when the pandemic struck, Shailaja feels anyone in her place would have performed the way she did.

“It is always the collective effort that ensures success. Yes, I organised the health community and made multiple teams to ensure everything was done at the right time. But even in that, I was not alone — we seek expert advice and held elaborate discussions with specialists. And I did not hesitate to take decisions. Everything was planned meticulously after observing the ‘behaviour’ of pandemic in other countries. We owe our success to planning and quick decision-making ability.”

Looking back at the time, when she was hailed as a hero in the media, she feels the same happened “accidentally” as she was there at that time.

“I kept all communication channels open and faced the media and the people. That was not the time to be afraid. I directly intervened with the people, and did not shy away from answering any question.”

And the fact that not getting a ministry affects her political career…, “I am satisfied in serving people in whatever way I can. There are no regrets,” she concludes.

(Sukant Deepak can be reached at sukant.d@ians.in)

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