Thiruvananthapuram: The Congress Kerala chief Mullappally Ramachandran on Friday sparked a row when he said state Health Minister K K Shailaja was trying to get the label of "COVID Rani" (COVID queen), triggering a strong response from the CPM which termed the remarks sexist and sought a public apology from him.
Ramachandran also said during the Nipah outbreak, Shailja camped at Kozhikode as a "guest artist" and tried to become the 'Nipah Rajakumari' (Nipah princess).
State Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac took to Twitter and asked how a political leader can "stoop this low."
"KPCC president mocks Kerala health minister Shailaja teacher as Nipah Princess aspiring to be COVID Queen. Can a political leader stoop this low? These slimes are not going to undermine all-around appreciation for the manner Shailaja and Kerala government have handled pandemic," Isaac tweeted.
Senior CPM leader Brinda Karat condemned Ramachandran's statement and said it was "sexist."
Ramachandran was speaking at the one-day fast by Opposition Congress Leader Ramesh Chennithala protesting against the central and state governments decision asking expatriates to get themselves tested for COVID-19 before boarding flights to India.
"Our health minister camped at Kozhikode during the Nipah virus outbreak as a guest artist. Now, she is in a competition to get the label of COVID Rani like she tried to become Nipah Rajakumari," Mullappally said.
The Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala in 2018 claimed 17 lives but the virus was contained effectively and the lone case which was reported next year was successfully contained after the patient recovered.
The state health department and the Minister has been receiving accolades for the efforts in containing the spread of the deadly coronavirus in Kerala since the first case in India was reported on January 30.
"I strongly condemn the sexist, derogatory and petty statement made by the president of Kerala Congress committee, Mullappally Ramachandran," Karat said in a video statement uploaded in the Twitter handle of the CPM.
She said at a time when the entire world was appreciating the work done by "comrade K K Shailaja as the health minister of Kerala", Ramachandran should be proud that she is a minister from his own state.
"When her (Shailaja) work is appreciated all over the world, this gentleman makes such a sexist statement.
It's a shame that such a person is made the president of the Congress party in Kerala. It's up to the Congress party, let them tell the people of Kerala.
Is this their culture, to personally attack a lady minister who is in the forefront in the fight against coronavirus? It is a shame," Karat said.
Karat asked Ramachandran to apologise publicly for his statement.
The Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) also sought apology from the state Congress chief and said the efforts taken by Shailaja in containing the Nipah virus was commendable.
Sajeesh, husband of Nurse Lini, who died after contracting Nipah virus during the 2018 outbreak, said Ramachandran, the then MP from Vadakara, "never even cared" to at least call the family.
"When Kozhikode town was gripped under the Nipah virusscare, Ramachandran was actually playing a guest role.
He never even cared to call us after Lini left us," Sajeesh said.
Social media was also not kind to the congress chief and senior party leader with many terming his statement as "misogynistic."
The hashtag #MullappallyShouldApologise was trending on Twitter.
Meanwhile, speaking at the one-day fast, which began at 9 AM, Chennithala said the state government has closed the doors of the state before the expatriates.
"Now, when the expats are facing a crisis, the state government has closed the doors of the state before them. We demand that the government reconsider the decision on no-COVID certificate.
Now when chartered flights have started coming to the state, the government is trying to block that," Chennithala alleged.
With rising positive cases, the government has made Covid test mandatory for those flying in from the Gulf to Kerala, a decision which has drawn flak from the opposition Congress, the BJP and various Gulf-based organisations.