Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan once again defended his party’s decision to replace KK Shailaja with former journalist Veena George as the state’s health minister, The Indian Express reported on Saturday. In an interview to the newspaper, Vijayan said it was the party that decided to induct new faces in the Cabinet.

“I am glad that many, including our adversaries, are now in full praise of our efforts in the health sector,” he told The Indian Express. “The very people who had ridiculed Shailaja Teacher are singing her praises.”

The chief minister said his government’s initiatives were always “part of team work” and not someone’s individual credit. “An able and competent young woman has succeeded Shailaja Teacher,” said Vijayan. “I would request all to stop the canards and support the government in its efforts to deal with the pandemic.”

The portfolios of new ministers in the Kerala government were announced on Friday, a day after Vijayan and his Cabinet members took the oath of office. Besides Vijayan, there are 20 ministers in the Cabinet. Seventeen of them are first-timers.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been criticised for dropping Shailaja from the new Cabinet, despite her praiseworthy record in handling the Covid-19 and Nipah outbreaks in the state. The party, however, has claimed that dropping her was a “political and organisational” decision, as it had chosen to induct new ministers for each portfolio. That said, the chief minister has retained the state’s home ministry, among others.

Vijayan said the decision to form an all-new Cabinet was long due but could not be implemented “due to various factors”.

“The driving spirit behind this norm is to equip the party and the administration to face future challenges,” Vijayan told The Indian Express. “In fact, it was there for long. But we could not implement it totally due to various factors. This time, the party decided that this norm will be implemented without any exception considering various factors, including the conducive political situation. The people of Kerala have accepted this and this is shown in the huge mandate.”

The Left Democratic Front retained power in the Kerala Assembly elections which were held on April 6. The results were declared on May 2.

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