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As Covid peaks, lack of PR exercise leaves Kerala Health Minister in tight spot

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 20 (IANS) Kerala, which grabbed global attention with its deft handling of Covid-19 pandemic by the then Health Minister K.K.Shailaja, is facing a grim situation after recording a huge spurt in the infection putting journalist-turned-health minister Veena George in a tight spot.

It all began in 2020 when the state registered the first Covid case in the country and by March, it came into limelight when it declared a lockdown. Soon, a nationwide lockdown followed.

At a time when countries like Italy, the UK and even the US was groping in the dark, Shailaja was making waves for the manner she was managing the health crisis in her state.

Every morning and evening, she would brief the media about the pandemic situation. The popularity she enjoyed, according to many, made Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan little insecure as whispers of Shailaja standing a chance to be decorated with the Nobel prize grew loud.

Soon Vijayan took over and relegated her to a seat next to him and in every media briefing, he would go ga-ga over how the state was leading the world in its fight against Covid. For an year, this was one of the highly-rated TV programme in the state, when the people sitting at homes would eagerly await his Covid briefing.

Every day, Vijayan touched upon one topic — agriculture, animal husbandry, kitchen gardening and others — on how to utilise time at home. Then came the free distribution of kits to all at home which turned out to be the clincher.

Besides, there was a huge sustained public relations exercise undertaken by a team highlighting all the accolades that Shailaja and Vijayan were getting, which according to many, was done with an eye on the two upcoming elections.

Even when Covid was raging in Kerala and notwithstanding the massive gold smuggling case, which saw even Vijayan’s most trusted top official senior IAS officer M.Sivasankaran cooling his heels in the jail, came the local body polls which Vijayan won with a huge margin.

Then came the April 6 Assembly polls and when votes were counted on May 2, 2021 Vijayan wrote himself into record books by retaining the office.

When Vijayan drew up his cabinet, he stunned all by excluding Shailaja and bringing in Veena George, who by now has started to feel the heat as even Vijayan after winning a second term rarely meets the media. His not meeting the media even when the state became the Covid capital fetched him brickbats.

The veteran leader ignored the media, leaving a hapless George beating around the bush, when tough questions were posed to her.

Reacting to the turn of events, veteran Congress leader and then State Congress president Mullapally Ramachandran said he had pointed it out that it was a sustained and well-planned media campaign which kept Covid under the carpet and when he said that, cyber bullies had trolled him.

“One of the biggest newspapers even wrote an editorial, but I stood my ground as I have only spoken the truth and now things have come true. Just look at the reports that have come out on the massive corruption that took place during the Covid and all I will say is, one can’t cheat all the people all the time,” said Ramachandran.

Today, unlike in the previous two years, a hapless George is seen trying her best to defend on what’s happening on the Covid front and she makes it a point to come out with a few press releases every day and at times there is a mention in the heading of every release, ‘first time in India’, but not much importance is being given by the media to such releases.

In the recent past when Kerala turned the Covid capital in the country, there were cries from some quarters, ‘bring back Shailja, save Kerala,’ and the Congress-led Opposition have come out in the open stating that George has proved to be a “disaster” as a Minister.

With the budget Assembly session around the corner, George could face more heat and all eyes are on how she will handle the brickbats, while it was only bouquets for Shailaja.



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