Changampuzha Krishna Pillai and Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon have little in common, except that both were born in the same year in Kochi.
They represented two different aesthetic sensibilities of Malayalam poetry, and even their perceptions of life ran parallel without meeting.
The poets, born in 1911, significantly enriched the Malayalam language — and after so many years, they are now a hot topic in Kerala.
A gaffe in the PhD thesis of ruling CPI(M)’s firebrand state committee member and Kerala Youth Commission chief Chintha Jerome has now prompted people to revisit their works.
The mistake in Jerome’s thesis, The Ideological Foundation of Malayalam Commercial Cinema in the Neoliberal Times, has snowballed into a controversy with accusations of plagiarism, too, being levelled against her.
While members of the Kerala Students Union (KSU) — the student arm of the Opposition Congress party — are taking out protest rallies to her office, several academic groups have approached the University of Kerala, demanding the withdrawal of the doctorate awarded to her.
Citing errors and plagiarism in the thesis, they also sought action against her research guide, former pro-vice-chancellor PP Ajayakumar.
Though Jerome received her doctorate in 2021, its content became public last week and sparked a controversy.
However, CPI(M) insiders called it a conspiracy hatched by her rivals.
Mistakes in the thesis
In the thesis, Chintha wrongly attributed the famous Malayalam poem Vazhakkula (a bunch of plantains) to Vyloppilli. The poem was by Changampuzha.
When news channels reported the mistake, questions were raised on how her guide and the expert committees approved the thesis.
An academic collective, Save University Campaign Committee, pointed out several other mistakes, including the spelling of Vyloppilli, which was misspelt as “Vyloppalli”.
Later, some others — mostly from the academia — claimed that a portion of the thesis, including the wrong attribution to Vyloppilli, was lifted from a 2010 article written by one Brahmaprakash in the web portal Bodhi Common.
Whatever mistakes Brahmaprakash had made in his article have been found in Jerome’s thesis, her critics claimed.
Despite repeated attempts, South First could not contact Jerome. Her office said she is away in Idukki on official work.
Initially, she told reporters that there might be some unforeseen errors and that she could respond only after proper verification.
Ajayakumar refused to comment on the matter.
Other problems in the thesis
On Monday, 30 January, KSU activists carried bunches of plantains while marching to her office.
They said they would call off the agitation only after the university stripped her of the doctorate or she resigned from the post of the Youth Commission chief.
Those who went through the thesis told South First that its entire structure was peculiar.
The thesis acknowledged, with gratitude, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, CPI(M) politburo member MA Baby, party state secretary MV Govindan, Finance Minister KN Balagopal and former Kerala DGP Loknath Behera.
Typically, researchers acknowledged those who had enriched their research.
M Shajar Khan of the Save University Campaign Committee told South First that the collective petitioned the vice-chancellor to initiate a thorough independent review of the doctoral thesis.
The committee, which exposed much corruption and nepotism in the higher education department, also demanded stern action if it is proved to be a plagiarised work.
The committee also petitioned the Governor, who is also the university’s Chancellor.
Changampuzha’s daughter Lalithaa, too, demanded the withdrawal of the doctorate, saying Jerome had caused disrespect to her father by wrongly attributing the poetic work to Vyloppilli.
Incidentally, Vazhakula is a powerful portrayal of the once-existent bitter relationship between Dalit tenants and upper-caste landlords in Kerala.
Communist parties and their cadres promoted the poem across the state. “Even elementary school children in Kerala know Changampuzha and his famous poems,” Khan said.
Meanwhile, CPI(M) central committee member EP Jayarajan accused those who found fault with Jerome as ill-motivated, people brimming with jealousy and personal animosity.
“As the chairperson of the Youth Commission, she has done exemplary work. So, some are keen on ruining the goodwill she is enjoying. To err is human, and all will have shortcomings. Chintha must not be punished for her minor fault,” Jayarajan said.
Interestingly, the thesis has another fallout. It carries a harsh perspective on the films by CPI(M) fellow traveller and Kerala Chalachithra Academy chairperson Ranjith.
The thesis accuses Ranjith, and fellow film director Priyadarshan, of promoting casteism and communalism apart from diluting the secular and progressive values taught in the Kerala community by successive communist governments.
The university is silent on the expert panel that should have gone through the research work based on the guide’s recommendations.
Speaking to reporters in Idukki on Monday, Jerome expressed regret over the unintentional error. She said corrections would be made when the work went to print.
Jerome also thanked those who pointed out the error. The Youth Commission chairperson, however, alleged that there was a concerted effort to tarnish her reputation. “There were anti-women remarks also,” she said.