Hailed variously as “rockstar health minister” and “coronavirus slayer”, KK Shailaja, Kerala’s health and social welfare minister, has a following like no other in the state, and admirers beyond. Currently, she’s busy campaigning for the upcoming assembly election in Mattanur constituency, Kannur.
Kannur has in recent decades gained notoriety for political violence, mainly involving the communists and the Hindu supremacists of the Sangh Parivar, but also the Congress party’s cadre. Between 2000 and 2016, the district saw at least 69 political killings. One of them was SP Shuahib, 29, a Congress worker who was in 2018, allegedly by workers of the governing CPI(M). The Pinarayi Vijayan government initially denied the involvement of their party’s cadres, but the CPI(M) eventually of their workers for their hand in the matter. “Not a single person from the CPI(M) has visited us till now,” said Shuhaib’s father, CP Mohammad, who runs a small clothing store in Kannur.
Mohammad claimed he would never consider voting for Shailaja, but the general mood in the town is different. “That murder happened, but now it’s forgotten. Even those who support UDF will vote for LDF this time because it’s Shailaja teacher contesting from here,” said S Shreedharan, 65, who runs a small tea stall in Kannur.
In this conversation with Nidhi Suresh, Shailaja talks about her plans for Mattanur if she wins, what she thinks of political killings, her next step in the fight against Covid, and the challenges of being a woman politician.