From Prospect Magazine:
It’s a disease of the body, but it has redefined the requirements for a great mind. In the last issue, we renewed a Prospect tradition and identified 50 top world thinkers. It was an all-new list for the Covid-19 age, since the mood called for thinking of a different sort—less chin-stroking, more hands on. Then 20,000-odd votes were cast and counted in a public ballot. The results are in, and represent a landslide win for the practical minds party. The top spot was overwhelmingly secured by a figure who—on first blush—is as far from a caricature intellectual of the Jean-Paul Sartre variety as you can get. That’s not quite right since, like Sartre, KK Shailaja is a communist, albeit from a party created to keep its distance from Soviet Moscow. It helps run the state of Kerala in south India, where Shailaja or “Teacher,” as she is fondly nicknamed due to a previous occupation, is the indefatigable health minister.
So deft was her handling of a 2018 outbreak of the deadly Nipah disease that it was commemorated in a film, Virus. In 2020, she was the right woman in the right place. When Covid-19 was still “a China story” in January, she not only accurately foresaw its inevitable arrival, but also fully grasped the implications. She rapidly got the WHO’s full “test, trace and isolate” drill implemented in the state, and bought crucial time by getting a grip of the airports, and containing the first cases to arrive on Chinese flights. Of course the virus returned, but there was rigorous surveillance and quarantine—sometimes in makeshift structures. The public messages have been consistent, and Shailaja follows them to the letter, with social distancing in all official meetings (which can go on until 10pm) and restricting herself to a Zoom-only relationship with her grandchildren.