Kerala’s health minister K.K. Shailaja says praise puts additional responsibility on her.


New Delhi: Kerala’s health minister K.K. Shailaja—popularly known as Shailaja Teacher—is contesting from the Mattanur Assembly constituency in Kannur district. She has received a lot of international acclaim and appreciation for her fight against Covid-19 in the state. She also played a key role in combatting the spread of the Nipah virus, an experience she said had helped in the fight against Covid. Shailaja was also invited to the United Nations for a panel discussion; she was also termed as one of the most influential women of 2020 by Financial Times. The Sunday Guardian talked to Shailaja ahead of the election. Edited excerpts:

Q: How are you faring in Mattanur? Why did you choose Mattanur instead of Kuthuparamba? (In 2016 election, KK Shailaja was elected from Kuthuparamba constituency which is 15 km away from Mattanur)

A: Mattanur is the place where I stay. My house is situated in this constituency. Last time, E.P. Jayarajan, who was the industries minister, had contested from this seat, but this time he is not contesting the election. Moreover, I am thankful to the voters and residents of Kuthupuramba as they have showered me with a lot of love and supported me. I had initiated several developmental projects in Kuthupuramba; all the primary health centers in that constituency had been converted to family health centers. A taluk hospital will be converted to a multi-specialty hospital at a cost of Rs 100 crore and the construction work is underway. As I told you, this is where I stay, I know several people personally and I have a personal relationship with the people of this constituency.

Q: Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in the last six months, especially after the local body elections. So, we are expecting a spike in cases after the Assembly election. What measures are you going to take to combat the spread if the LDF comes to power again?

A: We are taking the necessary strategic steps to combat the virus. Kerala was the state in the country to report coronavirus. Since then, we are keeping a close watch and screened everyone coming to the state. On 24 March, the Central government declared lockdown, but before that, the Kerala government had announced a medical emergency.

After elections, we are expecting a rise in the cases and to stop this surge we have planned activities. We have alerted the health workers, such as Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers etc in every panchayat. The health workers are going to each and every house and scrutinizing whether any symptoms of Covid have been reported or not.

Q: You were reckoned as “Coronavirus slayer’ or “the Rockstar Minister”. Do you take this title as an additional responsibility?

A: Definitely, this is an additional responsibility. After reading such title headlines, I don’t think we should sit and relax. I should take additional responsibility to find a solution to tackle this situation. I take this situation as a challenge. During the election campaign, I am in touch with the Principal Health Secretary, Dr Rajan Khobragade, and have taken complete responsibility and doing good work.

Q: A lot of political killings have been reported from Kannur district. What measures have you taken to curtail the political killings in the state and in the district?

A: In the last five years, the situation in Kerala was very peaceful. The Left front has never supported such killings. Political killings are subjected to condemnation. We initiated a conversation with all political rivals and requested them not to indulge and support any political violence. In Kerala, political violence and killings are very low. The Central government agencies have said that the law-and-order situation is normal. The government in the state is focusing on development, and we have initiated several projects in the state in the last five years.

Q: The Sunday Guardian interviewed E. Sreedharan and he alleged that the LDF stalled several projects. What do you have to say?

A: The government never doubted the capabilities of E. Sreedharan. It was the LDF government that requested Sreedharan to complete the construction of Palarivattam flyover. We never doubted his skills and capabilities. We respected him and his abilities. Development in the state happened when the Left Front was in power. In the last five years, we finished the construction of Kochi Metro, laying of GAIL pipeline, launched K Fone in order to provide free internet to the people. I never imagined that he would join politics. I thought he will be with the government and be an important part of developmental projects initiated by the LDF government. However, his allegations are not true.