It would seem to be the season for unexpected court verdicts — Sanjay Dutt, whom many thought would get off lightly got six years while Abdul Nazar Mahdani, implicated in the 1998 Coimbatore serial bombings cases, walked free. Among the places hit by the blasts was a venue where BJP leader LK Advani was speaking. The attacks were ostensibly to avenge the murder of 18 Muslims during a riot after a traffic constable was killed by al-Umma activists in 1997. If the verdict was not surprising enough, the manner in which the radical cleric-turned-political kingmaker’s release was welcomed by both the ruling LDF and the opposition UDF in Kerala was significant. Both could not do enough to show solidarity with Mahdani. It is only the BJP, a marginal force in the state, which has expressed its disquiet.
Mahdani, now the head of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a thinly-disguised version of the Islamic Sevak Sangh (ISS) that had been banned earlier, rose to fame with his inflammatory speeches, which won him many supporters in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The politically astute Mahdani first threw in his lot with the UDF, which had promised to get him released from jail. When it failed to deliver, he switched to the LDF, which threw all pretensions of secularism to the winds in courting the cleric. Given that his support swung the elections both in 2001 and 2006 in Kerala where wafer-thin margins spell the difference between the ruling coalition and the opposition, Mahdani will demand ever-greater concessions from the formation he chooses to back. While all this makes for smart politics, both the UDF and LDF have played into the hands of communal forces in the region. Significantly, the PDP has made considerable inroads into the space once held by the moderate Muslim League. Mahdani’s involvement in the blasts has not been proved but his potential to communalise politics in Tamil Nadu and Kerala is not in doubt.
Both the UDF and the LDF should know that if they proceed on this path, Mahdani could wreak immense damage to the region’s secular fabric. Politicians from both formations should refrain from going overboard to vie for his attention.