The symbol of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is appropriately a ladder. It has used its clout in the Muslim heartland of Kerala, the fabled Malabar region, to steadily climb into a powerful position.
The party has transformed itself into an influential political player without whom the United Democratic Front (UDF) could not have ruled so many times in the state. Its best known national face is the minister of state for external affairs, E Ahamed, who is campaigning relentlessly for party candidates.
The IUML has cast itself as a secular force, despite its espousal of the rights of Muslims. Given the credentials of other Muslim parties in the region like the Jamaat-i-Islami and the People's Democratic Party led by the jailed Abdul Nasser Madani, the League is moderate and progressive.
"The Left Democratic Front (LDF) must go, under it Kerala with all its advantages has missed the bus. What can you say of a party which says it will establish an Islamic bank and then borrow Rs. 40,000 crore from it to wipe out the state's enormous debt?" Ahamed asks as an approving crowd titters at a public meeting in Kozhikode district.
In Malappuram, the IUML general secretary, PK Kunhalikutty, is in full flow at a community meeting. Several women in full hijab sit away from the men listening to him. Questioned about women donning the hijab, not a common form of dress in these parts earlier, the League's workers claim women prefer it.
Replies to why the League did not give women a single ticket for the April 13 polls reflect prejudice and dishonesty. Some leaders say women don't want to come into politics, while a few others claim women will get half the seats the next time.
The League may be secular, but there is a definite Arabisation of the Malabar region. Koran classes for women are common and mosques galore have sprung up in an area where the real needs are drinking water and healthcare.
The League has already begun murmurs about its value to the UDF and also hinted at how it needs to get its due. "Our worth must be appreciated," says Ahamed.