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Sleepless nights for Congress

With many Muslim groups throwing their weight behind the LDF, ruling-Cong seems to be worried.

india Updated: Apr 08, 2006 12:57 IST

Kerala's ruling Congress party is bracing for a shock in assembly elections, with at least half a dozen influential Muslim groups throwing their weight behind the Left Democratic Front (LDF).

Apart from the Indian National League, which is contesting three seats in alliance with the Left in northern Kerala, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Jamat-e-Islami and the CH Secular Forum of dissidents in the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) have publicly announced their support to the LDF.

A Sunni group led by Kanthapuram AP Aboobackar Musaliar that has considerable support in the Lok Sabha constituency of Manjeri is also expected to support LDF candidates.

And sections of radical Islamic groups may also back the LDF led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) in the staggered elections to be held April 22 and 27 and May 8.

The INL, formed by former IUML president Ebrahim Sulaiman Seth who parted ways with the Congress after the Babri mosque was razed in Ayodhya in 1992, enjoys the sympathy of Muslims across the state.

Muslims in Kerala form 25 per cent of Kerala's 32 million people and are concentrated mainly in the northern districts of Malappuram, Kannur, Kasaragod, Wayanad and Kozhikode.

If the INL's support to the LDF was expected, the real shock to the Congress was the announcement of the PDP, whose founder leader Abdul Nasser Madani has been in a Tamil Nadu jail on charges of masterminding the 1998 bomb blasts in Coimbatore.

The PDP had backed the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 2001 elections but it is miffed by Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's failure to get Madani released.

Knowing the growing Muslim anger over the Madani issue, the UDF-dominated Kerala assembly unanimously passed a resolution last month demanding the release of Madani on humanitarian grounds but Muslims say this is too little and too late.

In a surprising move last week, Madani sent a letter to his workers from his prison cell asking them to work for LDF's victory.

If most Muslims go by the directives of these groups, it is bound to add to the confidence level of the LDF, which is already hopeful of returning to power in a state where voters are known to change governments every five years.

Ironically, the CPI-M had ruled out an alliance with IUML, which is considered a party of moderate Muslims, saying it was a "communal party".

CPI-M politburo member S Ramachandra Pillai, who hails from Kerala, argued that there was a difference between accepting support from and forming an alliance with a religion-based party.

"The CPI-M has succeeded in creating trust and confidence among the people that it is more secular than the Congress and people feel more secure under the Left leadership," Pillai said.

A worried Congress, which was routed in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections in Kerala, admits that any en masse voting by Muslims in favour of the LDF would be a blow.

A small swing in voting can make a huge difference. In 1996, the LDF took power with 45.88 per cent votes and 80 of the assembly's 140 seats. The UDF got a close 44.84 per cent but only 59 seats.

Although the LDF's vote percent went down slightly to 43.58 in 2001, its seat tally plummeted to 40. In contrast, the UDF swept to power with 49.17 per cent of votes and 99 seats.

Naturally, the CPI-M was desperately trying to win the confidence of Christians, who comprise 19 per cent of the population, by forging alliance with parties like the Kerala Congress (Joseph), which has strong roots in central Kerala.

But a Left leader admitted: "The Christians still have a mental block against the CPI-M."

CPI-M leaders say the party's strong criticism of US President George W Bush's visit to India - which triggered massive protests particularly from Muslims - and opposition to New Delhi's stand on Iran's nuclear programme might also have contributed to the Muslim vote consolidation.

In both the May 2004 general election and the recent local polls, the UDF suffered shocks in both Christian and Muslim strongholds. Now with Muslim groups openly coming out in favour of the LDF, the UDF fears further losses.