When KK Shailaja, Kerala’s former health minister who gained popularity with her largely efficient handling the COVID-19 first and second waves in the state, was dropped from Pinarayi Vijayan’s cabinet, it created a huge uproar in the political circles as well as on social media. Popularly called Shailaja Teacher, her removal amid the second wave of COVID-19 is said to have created a vacuum that will be hard to fill for her successor.
Shailaja had first put up a brave fight with the Nipah virus outbreak in 2018 and then against COVID-19. Her handling of the deadly Nipah virus brought her international recognition and she got featured in various media publications across the globe. She tackled the COVID-19 pandemic from the forefront and the steps taken by her reflected in Kerala’s management of the disease. Even though she has been a part of the party’s central committee, it was as a health minister in the previous Vijayan government that KK Shailaja found pan-Kerala appeal and acceptance. Such was her popularity that many even saw her as the next chief minister of the state after Vijayan. It has been widely reported that it was her popularity that proved fatal for her as it rattled many in the party.
After her exclusion, the LDF government was looking at someone who can fill in the shoes of Shailaja. It is being said that given the outrage, the LDF has decided to go for a woman health minister again. By giving the health portfolio to another woman legislator, the CPI-M expects to douse the outrage to some extent. Journalist-turned-politician Veena George has been put at the helm of the health ministry to continue Kerala’s fight against COVID-19. Given KK Shailaja’s charisma and popularity, a two-time legislator from the Aranmula constituency, George will have to face an uphill task in order to match or outsmart the welfare work done by her predecessor.
Expectations are already riding high on the 45-year-old mother of two to match up to Shailaja’s work. Veena George is known for her well-articulated speaking style and leadership qualities. She had received wide accolades for carrying out flood relief work in Pathanamthitta during 2018 and 2019.
Who is Veena George?
George has done her masters in Physics besides B.Ed. She began her political career as a member of CPI-M’s Students Federation of India (SFI) wing. She tried her hand at teaching before beginning her media career. As a TV personality, she co-presented the ‘Naam Munnott’ programme in which Pinarayi Vijayan used to interact with a selected audience. She was often praised for her in-depth questions and political analyses during her media stint. George had a striking career in visual media for over 15 years as an established news anchor in prominent Malayalam channels including Reporter TV and Manorama News, reported PTI. Her husband Dr George Joseph, a higher secondary school teacher, has served as secretary of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
Given her experience as an MLA between 2016 to 2021 and her leadership ability shown during the floods, there are high expectations of her handling of the health portfolio, especially given her predecessors track record and image. The people and the party leadership will be watching closely.