Row Over Senior Congress Leader's "Covid Rani" Remark On Kerala Health Minister

KK Shailaja has been at the forefront during one of the worst viral outbreaks in Kerala- Nipah and COVID-19 - as the state's health minister.

Row Over Senior Congress Leader's 'Covid Rani' Remark On Kerala Health Minister

Mullappally Ramachandran targeted KK Shailaja at the protest

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the ruling coalition in Kerala, has sought a public apology from Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Mullappally Ramachandran for his "sexist" and petty" remarks against state's Health Minister KK Shailaja after he mocked her as "COVID Rani" and "Nipah Rajkumari" during a protest today.

Inaugurating a one-day fast by opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala against Kerala government's decision of making pre-flight coronavirus tests mandatory for expats who wish to return to the state, Mullappally Ramachandran today hit out at the state government over its alleged "failures" in dealing with threat of COVID-19.

Mr Ramachandran targeted KK Shailaja at the protest and called her "COVID Rani" and "Nipah Rajkumari", which translates as "COVID queen" and "Nipah princess".

"During the Nipah outbreak in Kozhikode, though many people claimed credit for the efforts, it was actually a set of committed doctors, colleagues of Dr Muneer (deputy leader of opposition), nurses and a group of committed para medical staff who were the ones who took steps against Nipah. Dr Muneer, myself, Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala were there (Kozhikode) during this crisis, I was there all the time as an MP," he said.

The southern state was hit by the Nipah outbreak in 2018 and 2019.

"Our health minister camped there (Kozhikode) as a guest artist (during Nipah outbreak). Now the government is taking credit. And just the way she is making efforts to get the title of 'Covid Rani', she then competed to earn the title 'Nipah Princess'," the 75-year-old Congress leader alleged at the protest organised by the United Democratic Front.

Sources close to Kerala Health Minister have rubbished these allegations. "KK Shailaja was hands-on even before the deadly virus was confirmed as Nipah. She had held meetings with medical superintendents and traveled to Kozhikode. Despite suggestions against holding meetings at the panchayat level, the minister went ahead to counter the fears on the ground and speak to ASHA workers,"  a senior official who was also part of the team countering Nipah Virus on the ground told NDTV.

"The minister was camping in Kozhikode for weeks to deal with Nipah. She held review meetings and supported us at every front. She was full of knowledge and extremely accessible and involved round the clock," the official added. 

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"Then, and even now, the minister works till late into the night, discussing with officials and leading from the from the front", the official said.

Demanding a public apology, the ruling CPI(M) launched a scathing attack on the KPCC president over his remarks. "Shame on Congress. Such a Man as KPCC President. This is how the Congress Kerala Chief refers to Kerala's Health Minister K. K. Shailaja whose work in the current COVID crisis is recognised globally. He calls her COVID Rani and Nipah Rajkumari. He should make a public apology. Shame on the Congress for keeping such a person as it's President in Kerala (sic)," the party wrote in a Facebook post.

"I strongly condemn the sexist, derogatory and petty statement made by the president of the Kerala Congress Committee. At a time when the entire world is appreciating the work done by KK Shailaja, instead of being proud, such a sexist statement is being made. It's up to the Congress to decide if it's their culture to attack a woman who is at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus... It's a shame," CPIM leader and Rajya Sabha MP Brinda Karat said in a video message.

Kerala's Finance Minister Thomas Isaac tweeted: "KPCC president mocks Kerala health minister Shylaja teacher as Nipha Princess aspiring to be Covid Queen. Can a political leader stoop this low? These rankings are not going to undermine  all around  appreciation for the manner Shylaja and Kerala government have handled pandemic. (sic)" 

KK Shailaja has been at the forefront during one of the worst viral outbreaks in Kerala  - Nipah and COVID-19 - as the state's health minister. 

The southern state, which reported the first three coronavirus cases in India, has been appreciated on several counts, including by the Centre, on its containment efforts during the pandemic. Kerala has so far reported 2,794 cases; 21 patients died due to the pandemic. Across India, the coronavirus tally has soared to 3.8 lakh cases.