The symbol of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is appropriately a ladder. After all it has used its clout in the Muslim heartland of Kerala, the fabled Malabar region, to steadily climb into a powerful position.
The party’s best-known national face, the Minister of State for External Affairs, E Ahamed, is campaigning relentlessly for party candidates.
The IUML has cast itself as a secular force, despite its espousal of the rights of Muslims. “The Left Democratic Front (LDF) must go. Under it Kerala, with all its advantages, has missed the bus. What can you say of a government which says it will establish an Islamic bank and then borrow R40,000 crore from it to wipe out the state’s enormous debt?” Ahamed asks the crowd 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 claimed women preferred it.
Replies to why the League did not give women a single ticket for the April 13 polls reflected prejudice and dishonesty. Some leaders said women did not want to come into politics, while a few others claimed women would 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.
Ahead of the April 13 assembly polls, the IUML remains confident of its strength and has started murmurs about its value to the Congress-led United Democratic Front, hinting at how it needs to get its due. “Our worth must be appreciated,” says Ahamed.