Kannur University includes CPI(M) leader KK Shailaja’s memoir in MA syllabus; ‘bid to mock govt’, says LDF

The book was included in the syllabus as part of the revised curriculum for 27 subjects by an ad-hoc committee.


Published Aug 24, 2023 | 7:59 PMUpdatedAug 24, 2023 | 7:59 PM


The Kannur University in Kerala has sparked a controversy by including the autobiography of former Kerala health minister and a member of the CPI(M)’s state secretariat KK Shailaja in its MA English syllabus — a move dubbed by the ruling party as a “bid to mock the government”, and criticised by the Congress student wing as “politicisation of the syllabus”.

The book was included in the syllabus as part of the revised curriculum for 27 subjects by an ad-hoc committee constituted by Vice-Chancellor Gopinath Raveendran.

An organisation called Save University Campaign has petitioned Kerala Governor and Chancellor Arif Mohammad Khan, seeking the removal of the book, My Life as a Comrade, from the syllabus.

Also read: Kerala chief minister releases supplementary textbooks; attacks NCERT

‘Unnecessary row’

A syndicate member of the university, however, justified the decision, saying the book was included in the elective course for life writing, which introduces the students to the concept and makes them familiar with its various types.

He said the controversy was completely unnecessary, and the trigger for the row was the title of the book, My Life as a Comrade.

Criticising the university’s decision, senior CPI(M) leader and Convenor of the ruling LDF EP Jayarajan alleged that the book was included in the syllabus in a “bid to mock the government and the university”.

“Neither the party nor Shailaja knows about this,” he told reporters, indicating that the ruling party had nothing to do with the university’s decision to include the book in its syllabus.

Jayarajan also said the Left Front does not interfere with matters related to the university syllabus.

He said Kannur University should examine the matter, adding that it was “wrong to try to ridicule the government and the varsity”.

Also read: How Ramon Magsaysay Award divided the CPI(M) in Kerala

Shailaja clarifies

Shailaja, fondly known as Shailaja teacher in Kerala, said she came to know of the inclusion of her book through a media report.

“I contacted the university authorities and was told that the title was included in the books recommended for additional reading, along with the autobiographies of CK Janu, Sister Jesme, and others,” she clarified in a Facebook post on Thursday, 24 August.

Shailaja said she was not interested in including her book in any section. “The university did not seek my opinion before including the book,” she added.

The former minister, who led the state’s healthcare sector during the Nipah outbreak in May 2018, and later the Covid-19 pandemic, said the book was more of a memoir than an autobiography.

The first party dealt with the feudal setup that existed during her younger days, and the second part was more about her experience as the state’s health minister.

Though lauded worldwide for her deft handling of Covid-19, Shailaja later declined the Magsaysay Award, reportedly as per the party instruction. She said the fight against Nipah and Covid-19 was part of teamwork and not an individual’s achievement.

Also read: Communists mourn unbearable loss of Kundera, forget his opposition to totalitarianism

‘Political agenda’

Congress’s student outfit in the state, Kerala Students Union (KSU), on Tuesday, 22 August, hit out at the university for including the CPI(M) leader’s autobiography, alleging it was politicising the syllabus.

“There is a political agenda in this move,” KSU alleged and said the student outfit would protest against it.

Condemning the university’s decision, the Save University Campaign said the book should be withdrawn as the former minister was facing an investigation for excessive expenditure in purchasing PPE kits during the Covid-19 pandemic when she was the health minister in the previous LDF government led by Pinarayi Vijayan.

“The book of a former minister who is under probe is being taught along with the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi,” the organisation said in a statement, adding that they have moved a complaint before the Chancellor.

The book was included in the syllabus as part of a revision in curriculum that the university undertook for 27 subjects — an exercise that was last done nine years ago.

Also read: Kerala commences distribution of social security, welfare board pension

‘Part of life narrative section’

Curriculum committee Convenor Pramod Vellachal, who is also an associate professor at MG College in Iritty, said the book was included in the life narrative section for the PG course among the five electives provided by the university.

“This section involves the works of Ambedkar, Nalini Jameela, Mayilamma, CK Janu, TJ Joseph, and Sister Jesme among many others. As a person who has been very much involved in the lives of the people of Kannur, we have included the book of Shailaja teacher (as she is also known) in the curriculum,” Vellachal told PTI.

He added that the ad-hoc panel was constituted after the board of studies was dissolved by an order of the high court.

“The board of studies was not reconstituted despite approaching the chancellor multiple times. Finally, the VC constituted an ad-hoc committee for the curriculum revision,” Vellachal said.

A few months ago, when the English version of the book was released, AICC general secretary Jairam Ramesh hailed it, saying it was a fascinating read.

“KK Shailaja, who became world famous for how she tackled the Covid pandemic in Kerala, has just come out with her memoirs. It is a fascinating read,” he had written in a social media post on 9 May.

“The story she relates of how as CM, AK Antony stalwart Congressman responded to her request in 2004 to help her become a full-time CPM worker is quite astonishing but it reflects Antony and Kerala politics at its noblest best, something the current BJP leadership will never understand,” he had written.

(Disclaimer: The headline, subheads, and intro of this report along with the photos may have been reworked by South First. Former minister KK Shailaja’s version was added. The rest of the content is from a syndicated feed, and has been edited for style.)