Left Democratic Front has announced the portfolios of all of its 21 ministers including that of K Radhakrishnan, a Dalit leader who has been put in charge of the Devaswom (temple affairs) ministry.
This is the first time in more than half a century that a member of a Dalit community has been put in charge of a department where over 90% of the employees are from an upper caste backgrounds. The move may face some low-key opposition from conservative sections of the population, but that is unlikely to bother the government.
Otherwise, the only major surprise was that Mohammed Riyas, the young CPIM leader who recently married Pinarayi Vijayan’s daughter Veena, was given the very important public works department along with tourism.
The PWD department has traditionally been considered one of the ‘lucrative’ departments due to its potential for being used to generate ‘funds’ for the party (and sometimes, for the minister), much like revenue and finance.
However, during the first Pinarayi Vijayan government, it was handed over to senior leader G Sudhakaran, who has been credited with cleaning up the department and turning it into an example of how a ministry should be managed.
Revenue affairs, as has been the custom, was handed to CPI, the second biggest party in the alliance, and will be handled by K Rajan, while the finance ministry, which used to be handled by Thomas Isaac during the first term, will now be managed by CPIM’s KN Balagopal.
Mercurial leader V Sivankutty has been given charge of the crucial education ministry, which may see some action in coming days as there has been repeated requests from Dalit and OBC segments for the introduction of reservations in the recruitment to teaching positions.
Under Kerala’s unique system of ‘you hire, we pay’, the government shells out hundreds of crores of rupees per month as salary for teaching staff of private schools and colleges. Despite being government employees in everything but the name, the government has almost no say in the recruitment of these teachers. This has not only led to skewed communal representation in this segment, but also to massive corruption.
The issue of bringing the recruitment of these teachers under government norms has been a long-pending demand from many organizations, but successive governments have been loathe to broach the topic for fear of angering powerful communities and organizations that run most of such schools and colleges.
Meanwhile, the health ministry, which was taken away from KK Shailaja after the party decided against including any sitting minister (except Pinarayi Vijayan) in the current council, will be handled by ex-journalist Veena George, who quit a career in TV to join the CPIM around a decade ago.
All the sitting ministers except Pinarayi Vijayan were removed from their posts as the CPIM reportedly wanted to send the message that the party was above both the individuals and desires of the electorate.
The second Pinarayi council of ministers has also been under scrutiny for its lack of equal representation for all communities.
For example, there were just 3 ministers (14%) from the Muslim community, which accounts for around 29% of the population and contributes around 33% of the LDF’s votes.
Dalits, who constitute around 11% of the population and are estimated to account for around 17% or so of the total votes obtained by the LDF, have only one member (4.8% representation) in the council of ministers. This is in the form of K Radhakrishnan, in charge of Devaswom and Parliamentary Affairs ministry.
Upper caste Hindus, who constitute around 12% of the state’s population and contribute only around 4-5% of the LDF’s total votes, have the highest representation of any community in the new council — at 38%, translating to 8 out of 21 ministers. In addition to the ministers, both the newly selected chief whip (LDF) and the speaker also belong to the savarna Hindu community.
The Ezhavas, who constitute biggest source of votes for the LDF along with the Muslim community, have five members in the new 21-member cabinet.