She has no pomp of a politician. She wears a starched white cotton saree, neatly pleated, reminding any Keralite of a government school teacher next door. A few years ago, she was Kerala’s health minister, praised even by the United Nations for tackling the Covid pandemic. Before that, she also played a significant role in handling the Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala. All of this made the 2021 Kerala Legislative Assembly a cakewalk for KK Shailaja, popularly known as Shailaja teacher.

Three years later, the teacher prepares for another battle — the 2024 parliamentary elections from Vadakara in Kerala. In between her campaign in Koothuparamba in Kannur, she had a wide-ranging chat with businessline. Excerpts:


How important is this election for you as a candidate and CPM as a party?

This is a crucial election for the country. Our party (CPI-M) decided that prominent leaders, including our central committee members and former ministers, will be sent to the Lok Sabha. I’ll tell you why. Even today, more than 30 per cent of India’s population is in extreme poverty, but that isn’t the case for Kerala. We excel in the Human Development Index which was possible through poverty alleviation, providing clothing and shelter to people, and making healthcare and education accessible to them. But Kerala doesn’t have a lot of revenue sources, our tax share is very high though. But the centre doesn’t give us even 50 per cent of it. Even our share in central schemes is cut short. Despite that, Kerala improved so much, thanks to our planning and people-friendly welfare measures.

But this isn’t enough. We require better economic growth, express highways, faster trains, and ports. These have to be voiced in Parliament. There should also be someone bold enough to speak up for secularism in Parliament. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (in Kerala) isn’t ready for this. The Congress party is quiet and its leadership appears tired. Apart from that, you can’t trust the Congress party. A lot of its leaders and their kin are defecting to the BJP. In that scenario, we are asking the people of Kerala to send the left-party MPs to Parliament. When the INDIA Bloc government forms, it needed a strong representation of the left.


Your party and the Congress are allies in the INDIA Bloc. Don’t you think your statement will hinder forming a potential government in the future?

Not at all. During the first UPA government, we were allies. Back then, we were able to influence Congress to make a lot of key decisions, despite being a small party. The MGNREGA and RTI were implemented then and the Left Front played a key role in it.


How difficult is the fight in Vadakara for you, against Congress’ Shafi Parambil?

I don’t find this difficult at all. Vadakara constituency consists of seven assembly constituencies. LDF represents all of them, except one.

An infamous murder (of RMP leader TP Chandrashekharan) occurred in that assembly constituency a while ago. Your party was criticised for its alleged involvement in it. How much of that will affect your success in this election?

The courts haven’t validated the CPM’s involvement in that murder. There was a conspiracy against the CPM Kozhikode District Secretary which was dismissed. Yet, the court included two more people in the accused list. There have been a few unfortunate incidents that have occurred from both sides. If we look at it, so many of our comrades have been murdered for no reason by their political rivals. A young comrade, Dheeraj Rajendran, was murdered by the Congress recently. But if only murders get discussed during an election, only those without such a history should win. That being said, such incidents shouldn’t occur.


How badly will the electoral bond issue affect Congress? Do common people know a lot about this issue?

I don’t think the common folk know so much about it. This is a kind of mechanism by which the BJP converted black money to white. We are trying to educate people about this.