On April 28, Kerala will get its first shadow cabinet. It is being set up by members of civil society to critically analyse the policies and functioning of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front government.

A shadow cabinet is an institution popular in western democracies by which an opposition party forms an alternative cabinet with the aim of monitoring government decisions. The positions in shadow cabinets usually mirror those in the government. For instance, there would be shadow ministers who specialise in finance, education and home affairs. In Kerala, however, the Opposition Congress is not involved in the initiative. Instead, non-governmental organisations and social and environmental activists will be a part of it.

Anil Jose, co-ordinator of the project, said that the shadow cabinet will be inclusive. It will be headed by a woman, with at least 50% of cabinet berths also reserved for women, and will also have representatives from marginalised communities. He said it would not take corporate funding, as that would dent its credibility, and will be run with funds collected from ordinary people instead. “It will help us fight for people’s cause,” he said.

Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar will administer the oath of office to the shadow cabinet at a function in Kochi on April 28.

Not the first in India

Shadow cabinets are not new in India. The first such alternative cabinet was formed in Maharashtra in 2005 by the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena, when the late Vilasrao Deshmukh of the Congress was the chief minister. Similarly, the Congress constituted a shadow cabinet in Madhya Pradesh in 2014, while the non-government organisation, Gen Next, formed a shadow cabinet in Goa in 2015.

In Kerala, the idea took root last year. “We began the preparations with a host of brainstorming sessions and consultations on November 1, in Ernakulam,” said Jose.

Several non-government organisations are involved in the initiative. “Voters’ Alliance, Gandhian Collective, Moozhikkulm Sala, Human Wellness Study Centre, Keraleeyam and Gandhian Study Centre are some of the prominent organisations associating with the project,” said Jose. “We have so far organised 15 workshops.”

Prospective shadow cabinet candidates are currently attending workshops on various subjects, such as the introduction to different portfolios and their importance, a primer on the state budget and how to prepare a people-centered budget, and the code of conduct for ministers.

Jose added that the Centre for Development Studies, Kerala’s premier social science research centre; C Achutha Menon Foundation, which supports scientific study in political science; and Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad, a leading voluntary organisation that works for the promotion of science, have offered support to organise more workshops and seminars.

People attend a brainstorming session related to the formation of the shadow cabinet. (Photo credit: Special arrangement).
People attend a brainstorming session related to the formation of the shadow cabinet. (Photo credit: Special arrangement).

‘Ministers will be well trained’

The Kerala government has 19 ministers, including the chief minister. “Hence we decided to install a 19-member cabinet in the first shadow cabinet,” said Jose.

John Joseph, leader of the Voters’ Alliance, said most ministers in the Kerala government do not get time to study matters related to their responsibilities. “Recently, the education minister presented wrong data on the number of ‘no caste’, ‘no religion’ students in schools in the state Assembly,” said Joseph. “He just read out the data given by the education department officials. It embarrassed the government. It happened because of his inexperience.”

He said the shadow cabinet will not encounter such embarrassments as all the ministers will be trained well on governance, planning and administration.

“After consulting with various voluntary and non-governmental organisations, we have drawn up a list of 40 candidates who have the capacity to become ministers,” Joseph said. “They are currently undergoing grooming sessions that include trainings and workshops.”

Jose said the constituents of the shadow cabinet will be selected from these 40 candidates. “We will ensure that the ministers pick a woman chief minister and there will be 50% women representation, and adequate representation for transgender, differently-abled and Adivasi communities in the cabinet,” he said.

‘Will hold government accountable’

Jose said the shadow cabinet will critically analyse the government policies and actions in order to help it correct course. “The shadow cabinet will emerge as the voice of the people,” he said. “[It] will…make them [the government] accountable to the people. Our efforts will help the Opposition to fight the anti-people policies of the government.”

Jose said that the government and the Opposition in Kerala were similar in terms of their propensity for anti-people policies. “Both the ruling and Opposition parties might oppose our existence, but we are not bothered,” he said.

He added: “We will not allow the Opposition to hijack the shadow cabinet.”