The number of Keralites migrating to North America, Europe, and other developed areas across the world for jobs and better standards of living is now at an alarming high.
However, Mollywood actor Joy Mathew has a different kind of advice for the younger generation of the state.
He asked them to look for the plum post of the chairperson of the Kerala State Youth Commission (KSYC) and initiate steps to achieve that target.
Known for Facebook posts containing enormous sarcasm directed at the state’s political leadership, Joy also advised students who spent a lot of money and time on extracurricular activities to gain grace marks to make up for the losses in qualifying examinations to end that practice to look for the KSYC chairperson post.
Joy and the thousands of youngsters who praised his viral post have a common target: Chintha Jerome, a young and energetic face among the leaders of Kerala’s ruling CPI(M), and the current chairperson of the KSYC.
She has been heading the KSYC since 2016, when her political mentor Pinarayi Vijayan occupied the post of Kerala Chief Minister for the first time.
In the initial years, the post with Cabinet rank had no remuneration.
According to Chintha, she was keener on the welfare of the state’s youths than the financial returns, and the state government honoured her magnanimity by paying a consolidated ₹50,000 per month as an honorarium.
On the other hand, the Congress-led UDF in the Opposition in Kerala claimed the honorarium was decided when Oommen Chandy was chief minister, and the then UDF government constituted the commission with RV Rajesh as chairperson.
However, over the years, the responsibilities on Chintha have increased manifold inside the commission, and she started feeling that the honorarium was very meagre compared to the services she rendered.
In recent weeks, Chintha has given repeated recommendations to the state government to give her a considerable salary in place of an honorarium, with retrospective effect.
The representation through Youth Affairs Minister PA Mohamed Riyas won instant approval from the Cabinet.
Still, the government order hangs in the balance due to harsh criticism from social media users like Joy Mathew.
Social media users have accused Chintha of getting almost a 100 percent hike in salary, apart from ensuring a retrospective effect. Salary arrears estimated at ₹8 lakh would be reimbursed to her once the order gets promulgated.
There is also information that she would get ₹32 lakh as perks and other benefits with a retrospective effect.
With Opposition leader VD Satheesan and BJP state president K Surendran taking up the issue as a classic example of blatant misuse of public money at a time when the state was passing through its worst-ever financial crisis, Chintha and the state government are now becoming defensive.
Chintha now claims that she had been drawing a ₹1-lakh salary since 2018, and there was no awarding of pending benefits worth ₹32 lakh.
“If I get such a huge amount, I will contribute it to the chief minister’s relief fund,” she asserted.
What the detractors say
However, political opponents term it the latest example of high-level corruption and nepotism practised by the CPI(M)-controlled Left Democratic Front (LDF) government.
They also accuse the government of mocking lakhs of unemployed youth in the state.
Interestingly, Finance Minister KN Balagopal is yet to respond on the issue, which is gaining large-scale political attention.
Riyas is also mum, while sources in the Finance Department confirm that the move was staunchly opposed by its officials, citing bad precedent and the poor financial position of the state.
Attacks against Chintha are getting more intense, with critics accusing her of misusing the position to gain foreign junkets and to divert huge sums from the state exchequer for personal gains.
The youth commission is itself accused of having turned a white elephant, rehabilitating young leaders of the ruling party who want financial stability.
Chintha Jerome speaks up
When contacted by South First, Chintha said those who levelled the allegations forgot that she initially worked for months without a salary.
“The government fixed the wages of the KSYC chairperson at ₹1 lakh in 2018. I have been drawing that amount since that year,” she asserted.
She went on to ask: “What is the irregularity in attending an international youth conference hosted by the United Nations?”
She also raised the question: “The government fixed my salary on 26 May, 2018. Why is it triggering a controversy in 2023?”
However, the controversy is now reaching another level, with RV Rajesh approaching the Kerala High Court claiming that he, too, deserves the same payments for the tenures he served if retrospective effects were maintained in the case of Chintha.
Meanwhile, Chintha admitted that the commission secretary had written a letter to the Finance Department seeking clarity over the payments due to her.
Chintha and her controversies
Aged 34, Chintha hails from Kollam and grew up in the CPI(M) through its student wing SFI. Her growth was phenomenal when compared with her fellow leaders.
Critics say her reported proximity to the camp of the chief minister in the party helped her climb the ladder of power fast. And controversies are not alien to Chintha.
Hardly two years have passed since she was awarded a PhD degree in English Literature by the University of Kerala.
On that occasion, her detractors submitted documents proving she accepted stipends meant for Junior Research Fellows (JRF).
They said Chintha was accepting both stipends for the research and the salary of the youth commission chairperson simultaneously, which was against the law.
An advertisement carrying her photograph and image in a Christian matrimonial site owned and managed by the Catholic Church in Kerala also created a large-scale sensation.
Despite being a card-carrying Communist with a proclaimed atheist stand, Chintha was introduced through a would-be-bride’s caste with a specifically mentioned religion.
Trolls interpreted the advertisement as saying she was looking for a Catholic groom.
When the controversy aggravated, she said the advertisement appeared without her consent or knowledge. She even said that matrimonial sites must not be encouraged.
During the pandemic-induced lockdown days, Chintha posted a picture on social media of herself receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, which also sparked a controversy.
Social media users pointed out that Kerala was yet to start inoculating adults under 45 due to a shortage of vaccines.
They alleged that Chintha, aged 32 at that time, was a beneficiary of “backdoor vaccination”, an apparent reference to the alleged “illegal appointments” made during the first Pinarayi Vijayan government.
Responding to the allegations, she said she had accepted the vaccine based on Central government guidelines that said all public servants could be inoculated against Covid-19.
Then, a speech she made at a yearly conference of the Orthodox Christian Youth Movement went viral. In it, she criticised the hit Malayalam song Jimikki Kammal.
The lyrics roughly translate to “My father stole my mother’s Jimikki Kammal (pretty earrings). My mother drank up all his brandy”.
Among other things, Chintha asked why such a song became a hit in a place where mothers don’t finish fathers’ brandy bottles if they steal their earrings.
She was massively trolled online for this. In her response to the trolls, Chintha said she never intended to criticise the song.
At another public meeting, she termed the “selfie” culture among youngsters unwarranted. That put her in the crosshairs of a lot of trolls, especially because she said selfies promote individual and cult feelings, which might erode progressive values and promote arrogance.