Mix of fresh and experienced faces, regional aspirations and giant slayers: Here are probables in Pinarayi Vijayan 2.0 cabinet

Balancing regional aspirations, inducting a mix of experienced and fresh faces, placating new allies and rewarding giant slayers – the CPM-led Left Democratic Front, which swept to power in Kerala with a two-thirds majority, has to consider many factors to design the new cabinet for Pinarayi Vijayan 2.0.

On Tuesday, the CPM state secretariat will meet at the AKG Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, kicking off the process to form the new government. It will complete its formality of electing Vijayan as the head of the legislature party and the next government. Other parties in the coalition like the CPI, KC(M), JD(S), NCP and those with single MLAs are also expected to convene their respective state leaderships to nominate candidates for the cabinet. This will be followed by the LDF meeting in the state capital to discuss the electoral outcome, examine where it went wrong and finalise on the cabinet.

In the previous government, the LDF had 19 ministers excluding Vijayan of which 11 belonged to the CPM, four from the CPI and one each from the NCP, JD(S), Congress (S) and an Independent. Unlike the Oommen Chandy-led UDF government, which had a Home Minister, Vijayan himself handled the home ministry alongside other responsibilities. He had come under severe fire from the Opposition for a slew of police excesses and custodial killings. In Vijayan 2.0, the CPM may opt for a full-time home minister.

Two leaders who are guaranteed to have a spot in the new cabinet are outgoing Health Minister KK Shailaja and senior CPM leader and central committee member MV Govindan.

Shailaja, who emerged victorious from the Mattannur constituency in Kannur district with a record margin of over 60,000 votes eclipsing Vijayan’s margin, is expected to continue in the health and child welfare portfolio, having been lauded for her work in the first term.

Govindan to be No. 2

Govindan, elected from the party stronghold of Thaliparambu in the same district, spent long years in the organisation and has played a key role in shaping the party organisation and its core ideological values in the state. Govindan, considered close to the chief minister, is expected to bring experience and maturity into the government.

Another name doing the rounds extensively is K Radhakrishnan, MLA from Chelakkara and one of the party’s popular leaders in Thrissur district. Radhakrishnan, who represented the seat continuously from 1996 till 2016, served as Speaker of the Kerala Assembly between 2006 and 2011 and was a minister for SC/ST and Youth affairs in the government headed by EK Nayanar from 1996 till 2001.

Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja

CPM’s second-line leader to the fore

As part of bringing fresh faces into the cabinet and thereby stringing together a second-line of leadership within the CPM, the party is slated to give opportunities to leaders like P Rajeev, KN Balagopal and MB Rajesh, all of whom have rich parliamentary experience.

In fact, a senior CPM leader told the Indian Express during the campaign that the prized finance portfolio is likely to go to either P Rajeev or Balagopal. TM Thomas Isaac, the outgoing finance minister and a vocal member in the state GST council, did not contest elections this time due to the party’s strict two-term norm for MLAs. Since both Rajeev and Balagopal have had stints in the Rajya Sabha, they are equipped to deliberate with the Centre on key issues and lobby hard for Kerala’s needs.

In fact, so active was Rajeev in the Rajya Sabha that late BJP leader and former finance minister Arun Jaitley had even recommended his return to the Rajya Sabha. Another advantage for him is that he is an MLA from Kalamassery, an erstwhile Muslim League stronghold, in Ernakulam district. Since the district was not represented in the cabinet last time, Rajeev is expected to get a leg-up. He is also the present editor-in-chief of Deshabhimani, the CPM’s mouthpiece in the state.

To balance regional and community aspirations, the LDF will have to keep in mind representation from each of the 14 districts as well as prominent communities like Nair, Ezhava, Christian and Muslim sections.

While Kadakampally Surendran, the outgoing temple affairs minister, was the representative from Thiruvananthpuram district, this time, the CPM may reward V Sivankutty, the giant killer who wrested BJP’s sole seat Nemom. This way, the party aims to hit two birds with one stone.

As for the CPI, it might go for fresh faces this time considering only one minister in the outgoing cabinet – E Chandrasekharan from Kanhangad – had contested elections and won. J Chinjurani, a woman MLA from Chadayamangalam, PS Supal from Punalur and P Prasad from Cherthala are among those likely to get the nod for the cabinet.

 More woman ministers likely

In addition to Shailaja, Chinjurani could be the second woman minister. In recognition of the massive support among women, the LDF may even look for a third woman minister. In that case, Kanathil Jameela from Koyilandy and Veena George from Aranmula are favourites. If Jameela is picked, she could be Kerala’s first woman Muslim minister.

The LDF will also have to accommodate its new allies KC(M) and LJD along with others like JD(S) and NCP. KC(M), headed by Jose K Mani, won five out of the 12 it contested and may press for two cabinet berths. If Jose had won from Pala segment, he would have found a place in the cabinet. Instead, Roshy Augustine from Idukki and N Jayaraj from Kanjirappally are favourites. From JD (S), Mathew T Thomas, considered close to the chief minister, is the favourite.

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