Journalist-turned-politician Veena George will helm Kerala’s Health Ministry in the successive LDF cabinet, replacing KK Shailaja at a time when the state is witnessing an unprecedented Covid-19 surge.
Ms Shailaja’s non-inclusion, after she played a leading role in the state’s fight against Covid-19, had created a flutter and various sections of the society including celebrities had batted for her reinstatement.
Veena George, a two-time legislator, represents Aranmula constituency in the state assembly.
Expectations are high on the 45-year-old mother of two to match up to Shaialaja”s work in Covid management, although Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said that it was a collective effort of the government.
Known for her leadership qualities, well-articulated speech and matured interactions, Ms George’s name was being widely speculated for the challenging post since the Marxist party began discussion for portfolio allocation.
With her induction in the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF coalition cabinet, Ms George earned a rare achievement of being the first woman journalist to reach the position in the southern state.
Wresting of Aranmula, a traditional Congress fort in Pathanamthitta, in 2016 assembly polls and retaining the seat with a remarkable margin of 19,000 votes in the April 6 polls were considered to be among several other factors that helped her to cement a cabinet berth.
A surprise entrant in the poll fray, Ms George had defeated her nearest rival Sivadasan Nair of Congress by a margin of 7,646 votes in the 2016 election.
She unsuccessfully contested in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Her able leadership was widely praised during the time of flood relief in Pathanamthitta in 2018 and 2019.
As a TV personality, she was the co-presenter of “Naam Munnott”, the television programme in which Vijayan used to interact with select audience.
Before plunging into politics, she had a striking career in visual media for over 15 years as she had been an established news anchor in prominent Malayalam channels including Manorama News and Reporter TV.
A mother of two, George was noted for her in-depth questions and political analyses during her TV media stint and won several awards also for journalistic excellence.
A rank holder of MSc (Physics) and B.Ed, George began her political career as an activist of Students Federation of India (SFI), a wing of the CPI(M).
She also tried her hand at teaching for a short period before beginning the media career.
A member of the CPI(M) Pathanamthitta area committee, George was given the challenging portfolio of Health when the Marxist party was facing severe backlash, especially on social media platforms for not retaining Ms Shailaja, who had won global acclaim for her deft leadership in checking the Covid-19 surge, in the new cabinet.
A section of international media had earlier described Ms Shailaja as a “rockstar” health minister.
People from various walks of life including politicians, writers and celebrities have come out in open questioning the Left party’s decision to drop the well-performing woman minister.
But the party made it clear her omission was part of its policies to give new faces an opportunity. Barring Vijayan, all 11 other CPI(M) nominees in the LDF coalition government are first time ministers.
By giving the health and family welfare portfolio to another woman legislator, the Marxist party expects to douse the protests to some extent.
Besides tackling the covid pandemic situation in an effective manner, George also has an added challenge of showcasing a better performance than her illustrious predecessor in the state”s health sector.
Her husband Dr George Joseph, a higher secondary school teacher, has served as secretary of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.