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Supping with the devil

The message to the CPM in Kerala is loud and clear. There is no need for self-appointed messiahs to take up the ‘Muslim’ cause. The aspirations and needs of the Muslims are no different from those of other communities. Lalita Panicker examines...

india Updated: Apr 14, 2009 22:24 IST
Lalita Panicker

Elections in Kerala have always been like the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Political aspirants deliver their indecipherable speeches, their loyal supporters like the March Hare explain their meaning to the people and in the manner of the Dormouse, people go home to sleep over things. So election after election, the Left parties would more or less retain their base as would the Congress and its allies. The vote would swing ever so marginally and one or the other would gain the upper hand.

The communal vs secular issue has never been far from the surface, though today the CPM has forced the issue into the open. No, not by putting communal forces in their place but by joining hands with rabid parties like the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by the incendiary Abdul Nasser Madani, believed to be prime mover of the Coimbatore bomb blasts. How does the CPM, notably the faction led by state chief Pinarayi Vijayan, explain how he has cosied up to the likes of Madani when the chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan has openly come out against this?

The silver-tongued Vijayan sees in Madani virtues very few do and has enthusiastically shared a platform with him. Interestingly, while the fight against Madani and his ilk should have come from the commissars of secularism like Prakash Karat and co, it is other Muslim parties like the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) that have condemned this communalisation of politics. P.K. Kunjalikutty, state secretary of the IUML, says the CPM’s espousal of the PDP is appalling. “We have no truck with such parties which give Muslims a bad name. We will stick to our secular guns, we know the people will not fall for these communal traps,”

E. Ahamed, minister of state for external affairs, the IUML candidate for the Malappuram seat and the party’s state president, echoes these views. “The PDP will not even get a bronze medal, leave alone gold or silver, so why even talk about these parties? The Marxists are grasping at straw ropes, we will never entertain communal parties and their retrogressive agendas,” he says.

There is a very strong realisation that the fight against fundamentalism has to come from within the Muslim community. Says Aryadan Mohammed, Congress MLA who had campaigned in Ponnani, “If the CPM is trying to win over Muslim votes by aligning with Muslim fundamentalists, it is barking up the wrong tree.”

The fact that two so-called jihadis from this area were shot dead trying to sneak across the Line of Control has embarrassed and shocked people. There is great resentment at any talk of a pan-Islamic identity. The majority of Kerala’s Muslims are clear that they have no interest in Pakistan, jihad or any form of terror. They pride themselves on the fact that the parties that represent them stand for secularism and harmony.

The CPM’s suicidal alignments with parties like the PDP will bring it neither glory nor votes. In fact, the rank and file are startled at this open espousal of an anti-national party and communal elements. Is this what we have fought for all these years, seems to be the puzzling question on party workers’ lips. This seems to be a problem with the party line being dictated from the distant confines of AKG Bhavan in New Delhi.

Local Muslims leader like Ahamed who fight elections know that any hint of communalism on their agenda will be counterproductive. And the heartening development is that neither they nor their followers are the silent majority. They have spoken up vocally about their opposition to Muslim fundamentalism to approving audiences.

To lend weight to their voice, support comes in the form of Pannakad Mohammed Ali Shihab Thangal, a revered hereditary spiritual Muslim leader. When I went to meet him, he was taking a rest cure at a riverside resort to deal with his galloping diabetes. He looked more like a genial Santa Claus with his twinkling eyes than the spiritual leader whose name is uttered in hushed tones. “Parties like the PDP have no popular support, Madani is a communal creature and has done nothing for the state,” he says. The Thangal’s feelings find echo among the majority of Muslims here. He says that such formations come up like mushrooms after a monsoon but cannot survive all-weather conditions.

Religion has always been a tricky issue in any election. But here the Muslims and their leaders have shown exceptional courage in taking on those bent on polarising Kerala society. The silent majority syndrome has vanished. And everyone but the CPM has seen the writing on the wall. By this electorally and socially regressive policy, the CPM appears hell-bent on writing its own epitaph in Kerala. This makes no sense since it is not exactly thriving elsewhere except West Bengal.

Perhaps Karat and Vijayan could explain to the uncomprehending electorate how their fervent promotion of secularism and their oft-repeated disdain for communal politics squares with what they are doing in Kerala. For Madani, this is a win-win situation. He gets to come on television, one main channel is run by the comrades, and notch up publicity for his party. He is able to try and buy legitimacy for his anti-national views by sharing a platform with the chief of the state’s ruling party. And he is in the driver’s seat with the CPM following him like a breathless suitor.

The message to the CPM in Kerala is loud and clear. There is no need for self-appointed messiahs to take up the ‘Muslim’ cause. The aspirations and needs of the Muslims are no different from those of other communities. What they seek is someone with a vision, a rare thing these days, and someone who will deliver on promises like better educational facilities, rehabilitation of Gulf workers and more job opportunities. As things stand, the CPM and its oddball allies don’t seem to fit the bill. For the volatile Malayali, Manmohan Singh may seem a distant figure. But they are willing to opt for him and the parties which endorse what he stands for than Kerala’s homegrown leaders who are trying spread divisiveness for a few votes.