KK Shailaja: ‘COVID became a litmus test for governance worldwide… Wherever there was a strong public health system, we could fight the virus, reduce mortality rate’

Former Kerala well being minister and CPI(M) Central Committee member KK Shailaja on what drives the Kerala well being mannequin, the significance of community-focused healthcare and why she declined the 2022 Ramon Magsaysay award. The session was moderated by Liz Mathew, Deputy Political Editor.

LIZ MATHEW: Communists often don’t come out with autobiographical books. Of course, EMS Namboodiripad, Jyoti Basu and Puchalapalli Sundaraiah had come out with memoirs. What prompted you to put in writing My Life as a Comrade?

I additionally didn’t intend to put in writing an autobiography however I wished to put in writing one thing about my grandmother as a result of she was a courageous girl and an inspiration to me. She was an excellent storyteller and she or he spoke in regards to the battle towards feudalism waged by the socialists and Communists of her time, towards untouchability, and so on. I at all times considered writing about her. Then Chiki Sarkar of Juggernaut Books known as me and mentioned she wished to put in writing a guide on me. She added the phrase ‘extraordinary’ (within the guide title). I’m not a rare girl. I’m an atypical girl and political employee. But I occurred to be the Kerala well being minister from 2016 to 2020, when a number of pure calamities and pandemics occurred — floods, hurricanes and the outbreak of the Nipah and COVID-19 viruses. Not solely that, my authorities, underneath the management of comrade Pinarayi Vijayan, began new missions to develop Kerala — the Haritha Keralam Mission, Life Mission, Aardram Mission and the Comprehensive Educational Rejuvenation Programme. I additionally wished to put in writing one thing about that. But I had no time. Manju Sara Rajan (her co-writer) recorded the whole lot I mentioned and wrote this guide — how a lady from a poor, conventional household and a distant village got here to politics and have become the central committee member of the CPI (M), after which a minister. Many political activists have an analogous story to inform. It isn’t my story alone. It is (a set of) reminiscences of an atypical political employee, not an autobiography.

Former Kerala health minister and CPI(M) Central Committee member KK Shailaja

LIZ MATHEW: You performed probably the most important position in serving to the Left Democratic Front (LDF) authorities via the COVID disaster. You arrange a brand new mannequin to combat the pandemic that performed a key position within the authorities’s return to energy in 2021. But you weren’t a part of the federal government when it returned. Why haven’t you talked about that (within the guide)?

There isn’t any want to say that as a result of it isn’t the one essential factor. Under the management of the LDF, we had been all doing new issues in our departments. I labored laborious in my division. That doesn’t imply solely I can do these items. Our get together and the LDF determined to alter all of the ministers, not as a result of the ministers’ performances had been dangerous — everybody labored laborious and carried out properly within the final ministry — however we determined that everybody ought to be recent within the new ministry, besides the main individual. No one is constant, not simply me. I’m a member of the Communist Party Central Committee. Both these actions, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary, are the identical to us. The get together taught us from the start that an individual ought to work both within the subject or within the parliamentary space. There are so many leaders who don’t even contest an election, however they’re working for society as get together employees and leaders. There isn’t any approach to grow to be disillusioned with this choice. It is a collective choice. I’m working as an MLA and a celebration Central Committee member. That’s sufficient.

The (Communist) get together taught us from the start that an individual ought to work both within the subject or within the parliamentary space. There are so many leaders who don’t even contest an election

LIZ MATHEW: Why have you ever declined the Ramon Magsaysay Award? The get together doesn’t appear to be ideologically towards it. 

The get together had not imposed something on me. When they (the Award committee) chosen me, I used to be grateful that the committee chosen a politician. I feel the Magsaysay Award isn’t given to political leaders however solely to these engaged in public service. But I’m a Left politician. I used to be pondering if I may settle for (the award) as a result of I’m a central committee member of a political get together. No one ordered me to reject it. It was my choice. I mentioned it with a few of my colleagues and, eventually, determined to reject the award courteously.

LIZ MATHEW: The Left at all times advocated for equal rights for ladies. Why do you assume that ladies are usually not a part of the highest management of the Left, like different events within the nation?

In Kerala, after we (Communists) got here to energy in 1957, we began land reforms. At first, we handed the ordinance to remain eviction from the land and the poor bought a bit of land — their particular person lives grew to become dignified. Then we began to do away with the feudal pondering {that a} girl’s place is within the dwelling. Poor households weren’t sending woman youngsters to high school within the Fifties. But our get together and lots of social reformers intervened for ladies’s training. In Kerala, these days, each youngster, regardless of their gender, is becoming a member of college. Even in greater research, the variety of ladies has elevated. But the mindset has not completely modified. The society isn’t solely feudal but in addition capitalist. Capitalism treats ladies as a commodity. But the Communist Party is attempting laborious to combat towards this. We have requested our get together employees so as to add extra ladies to department, native and space committees. This time, after the get together congress, greater than 2,500 branches have ladies secretaries. Previously, ladies would simply get a membership and work within the get together department. But now extra ladies are coming to the forefront and shouldering the tasks of a celebration department secretary, a panchayat secretary and of ward members.

Wherever there’s a public well being system that’s robust, they will sort out this type of pandemic and infectious ailments… Wherever there may be full privatisation, just a few can afford the remedy

LIZ MATHEW: The Left events, at the least in the case of ideology, give lots of significance to the ladies’s rights motion. There is a view that the weakening of the Left might be a setback for this motion within the nation as a result of different mainstream political events, in addition to regional events, don’t espouse ladies’s rights just like the Left does. What might be the way forward for ladies’s rights motion on this nation within the backdrop of the weakening of the Left?

In the Left’s ideology, democracy means equal alternative to all residents, with out discrimination. If the Left’s ideology turns into weak, the emancipation of girls will even have some setbacks. No different ideology offers equal standing to ladies. Capitalism doesn’t need to equalise the whole lot. In their thoughts, the progress of part of society is extra essential than others.

KAUNAIN SHERIFF: The complete nation seems to be as much as the Kerala well being mannequin. At the identical time, Kerala is seeing a silent pandemic of non-communicable ailments, whether or not it’s diabetes or hypertension. During the pandemic, there have been a number of deaths in Kerala due to co-morbidities. In the longer term, how can we sort out this challenge?

Kerala is on the forefront of some well being indices. The youngster mortality price in 2016 was 12 out of 1,000 stay births. In 2020, it lowered to five.4. The maternal mortality price was lowered from 67 out of 1 lakh births to twenty. We are on the forefront in life expectancy — it’s 74. In Kerala, the human improvement index is excessive. We have been in a position to cut back poverty — 0.7 is the proportion of extreme poverty in Kerala, however in different states, it’s 28 to 30 per cent. But our way of life has modified. Physical or guide labour has lowered, consuming habits have additionally modified. Therefore, individuals in Kerala have grow to be extra diabetic than individuals in different states.

(But) different states are additionally going through this downside. When I participated in a gathering of the well being ministers in Delhi, I mentioned to the then Union Minister of Health, Dr Harsh Vardhan, that we’re the diabetic capital of India. He replied, don’t fear, India is the diabetic capital of the world.

During this pandemic, we had challenges in entrance of us. One is our inhabitants density. Kerala is a small place and greater than 860 individuals stay in a single sq. kilometre, whereas the nationwide common is 430. For infectious ailments, inhabitants density is harmful. The second factor is our life expectancy — Kerala has an excellent inhabitants of the aged above the age of 68. They make up about 50 per cent of the full inhabitants. After 60 years, most of them have co-morbidities akin to diabetes or hypertension. We needed to combat tougher than different states. But what made Kerala completely different? In January 2020, the pandemic got here to Kerala. But attributable to our preparation and planning, we caught them from the airport itself. We have some methods — hint, quarantine, check, isolate and deal with. We traced all of the individuals coming from outdoors as a result of time was essential then. Vaccines had been but to be invented. We remoted correctly and minimize the an infection chain. In December 2020, the mortality price was solely 0.4 per cent in Kerala and the vaccine got here at the moment. Due to vaccination, we lowered the mortality price additional. In 2021, we had the Assembly election. We couldn’t lock down the whole lot endlessly. The virus unfold. But it was comparatively decrease in Kerala (in comparison with different states). We had 100 per cent loss of life registration in Kerala. In some states, it was solely 30 or 31 per cent. Now, there are mutated viruses affecting the inhabitants. We are conscious of that and try to include it. The state of affairs in Kerala isn’t too dangerous.

RINKU GHOSH: Through its COVID administration, Kerala has created a brand new template for public well being administration. What classes do you assume different states can undertake from it?

COVID grew to become a litmus check for governance techniques all through the world, not solely in India. Wherever there was a robust public well being system, they might sort out the issue, oppose the virus and cut back the mortality price. Privatisation is not going to assist sort out these sorts of calamities or pandemics. For instance, within the USA, you have got wealth and expertise, however no correct public well being system. That is why they couldn’t include the virus initially. Thousands of individuals died in America. But in a spot like Cuba, the place there’s a excellent public well being system, they might in some way handle this lethal virus.

In Kerala, the general public well being system has been robust from 1957 onwards. We have been constructing public well being establishments. With every panchayat, we now have functioning main well being centres. But with the pandemic, we understood that it isn’t sufficient. So, we tried to strengthen the infrastructure and capacities of our well being system. Our purpose was to place the virus underneath the well being system’s threshold. We by no means allowed the virus to come back up. Because of that, we elevated the beds within the isolation unit, we elevated the open oxygen provide, its manufacturing earlier than demand elevated. We anticipated that generally circumstances might go to 25,000 or 50,000 in a day and we deliberate for that. No one died in Kerala with out getting oxygen. That is the distinction of pre-planning.

We can have collective motion with even the personal sector. Some state well being ministers known as me and requested me the best way to handle personal establishments — they mentioned they don’t seem to be obeying us, they’re charging the poor in line with their want and are usually not giving house for COVID isolation wards. I mentioned it’s not so in Kerala. Even a day earlier than the unfold of the virus, our chief minister known as a gathering of personal hospital managements and I participated in it. We requested them to go away apart some house for isolation wards as circumstances might enhance sooner or later. Some promised 200 beds, some solely 50, some small hospitals promised to offer 15 beds. Private and public techniques labored collectively. That is as a result of we now have management over them. They can’t dominate. That is the distinction — who’s controlling the well being system. We can’t enable the personal sector to regulate it, in any other case we can’t give help to the poor. That is the distinction between Kerala and different locations.

ANONNA DUTT: Right now, we’re seeing a rise in COVID circumstances, and there are more likely to be different pandemics sooner or later. You spoke in regards to the privatisation of healthcare and we see lots of that occuring. How does a state authorities guarantee that you’ve management over this, particularly as a result of we would like the improvements to come back in. Now, the federal government can also be selling medical tourism. So we would like these, nevertheless it must be balanced with the general public well being facet as properly.

Wherever there’s a public well being system that’s robust, they will sort out this type of pandemic and infectious ailments. They can deal with non-communicable way of life ailments additionally. Wherever there may be full privatisation, just a few individuals can afford the remedy. What in regards to the destiny of the poor individuals? We can enable personal hospitals or very large company hospitals as a result of they will apply and purchase some new applied sciences. But for the poor, we must always organize all these amenities within the public sector. Privatisation is harmful for society, and the COVID pandemic proved that.

LIZ MATHEW: In Kerala, we’re seeing an enormous outreach from the BJP, together with from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Do you assume it is sufficient to shake the bipolar polity that we now have seen within the state for thus lengthy?

Those who assembled within the Prime Minister’s assembly, not all are BJP followers. Most individuals in Kerala are secular-minded. Not solely Left get together followers, but in addition Congressmen and people from different events. Most imagine in our Constitution, in secularism and democracy. But the BJP doesn’t assume like that. They are propagating the Hindutva ideology. India can’t grow to be a Hindu rashtra. Lakhs of Muslims and Christians are right here; hundreds of Buddhists and Jains are right here. We are one nation. What makes us one nation is that secular angle. A spiritual perception is a personal factor. Other than that, we’re all Indian residents.

A variety of individuals gathered in entrance of the Prime Minister, not in entrance of a BJP chief. They wished to ask some questions. No questions had been raised there. What is the destiny of the nation? Unemployment is at 8 per cent and rising. The Prime Minister ought to enable the poor youth to ask these questions: why is unemployment rising? What is your coverage to scale back unemployment and provides jobs to youths? Is there any agricultural reform? Is there reform within the trade? Only a speech is not going to give solutions. I feel Keralites ought to take into consideration that.

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