LDF, UDF use CAA to vie for Muslim votes in North Kerala | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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LDF, UDF use CAA to vie for Muslim votes in North Kerala

By, Kozhikode/wayanad
Apr 22, 2024 08:44 AM IST

On March 11, the central government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) notified the rules of the CAA, paving the way for its implementation

On a recent evening, as the sun began to set over the Arabian Sea, in one of the bylanes of Beypore, an ancient port town in Kozhikode district of north Kerala, Muhammad Koya peered out from inside his small stationery shop.

The CPM organised an election meet in Kozhikode district where a poster reading “CAA in the Arabian Sea” was seen. (HT Photo)
The CPM organised an election meet in Kozhikode district where a poster reading “CAA in the Arabian Sea” was seen. (HT Photo)

Now in his 60s, Koya had returned home to Kerala a few years ago from the Gulf, where he worked in the steel fibre business. But with business prospects nosediving and savings depleting, he decided to return home and set up a small shop where he could spend his sunset years.

“While business was good until 2020, the pandemic changed everything. Post-Covid-19, the market has been generally bleak. On some days, we make a little money, and on other days, nothing at all. Today was a bad day,” Koya remarked, as he kept his eye on the steady stream of people through the street, all rushing home in the Muslim-majority town to break their fast in the holy month of Ramzan.

Amid the economic uncertainty, Koya faces a looming political wrangle: the Lok Sabha elections and its ramifications. “If the Narendra Modi government comes back to power, it’s disastrous for the country, especially the minorities. They can change the laws and the Constitution at will,” he said.

“The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is naturally one of the most talked-about subjects in the election. We cannot accept that citizenship would be granted on the basis of religion and a community is excluded. It is illegal and has to be opposed,” said Koya, referring to the law that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

On March 11, the central government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) notified the rules of the CAA, paving the way for its implementation.

When asked who is fighting the BJP on the issue of CAA, Koya thought for a while and replied, “Idathupaksham (Left Front). They are the ones constantly talking about it, right?”

“Has the Congress national leadership uttered a word?” asked the sexagenarian. Pointing to a poster of the Congress’s Kozhikode candidate MK Raghavan, he quipped, “You can’t trust people like him. You never know when they will jump ship to the BJP.”

About 100 metres away in the same bylane, Hamsa Koya, who has been running a grocery shop for the past six decades, is also anxious about a third term for the BJP at the Centre. But unlike his neighbour, Hamsa believes Congress is the alternative.

“Both Congress and the left are raising CAA and its potential implications. But when you really think, how many seats can the left realistically get in the country? Its influence is limited, whereas Congress is the national challenger to the BJP,” he said.

In towns like Beypore, Mananthavady and many others in northern Kerala, such stark contrast in opinion and a sense of perplexity within the Muslim community is evident on the ground. Left Democratic Front or United Democratic Front: which has more heft in confronting the BJP is a key question rankling the community and defining the election narrative, especially in this region.

The Centre’s move to roll out CAA by notifying its rules just weeks ahead of the Lok Sabha elections has made it a key campaign plank of both the LDF and UDF, as they pitch a fierce fight for Muslim votes, especially in Malabar region, where the community wields considerable influence in electoral outcomes.

While Muslims are present in all 14 districts of the state, they are concentrated in the northern Kerala districts of Kasaragod (accounting for 37% of total), Kannur (29%), Wayanad (28%), Kozhikode (39%) and Malappuram (70%) as per the 2011 Census, forming a key vote bank across seven Lok Sabha constituencies. These seats are expected to see a direct tussle between the LDF and UDF, with the National Democratic Alliance having marginal presence in the region.

Around 65% of the Muslim votes in Kerala had consolidated behind the UDF, leading to the front’s landslide win in 19 of the state’s 20 seats, according to the CSDS-Lokniti survey after the 2019 general elections. The LDF, which won the remaining seat, was left stunned by massive margins of defeats even in its strongholds of Alathur, Attingal, Kannur and Palakkad.

This time, the LDF is attempting to wrest the community’s support by running a shrill campaign on the CAA. And part of its strategy is to paint the national leadership of the Congress as silent on important issues like CAA and uniform civil code and criticise it for frequent defections of its leaders to the BJP.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, star campaigner of the LDF in the state, has led the assault on the Congress and its leadership at almost every public meeting, presenting his party as the ideological alternative to the BJP.

At a rally in Palakkad on April 17, Vijayan said, “Rahul Gandhi seems to have a big complaint that we (LDF) speak against him here in Kerala. He conducted a nationwide yatra during which he spoke about all national and international issues. I want to ask him whether he expressed any opinion about the CAA. Why didn’t you talk about it? Leave it, people thought he would speak about it at the closing ceremony. That didn’t happen. Then, people thought he would speak about it in Wayanad when he came to file his nomination. Did he? What is keeping him busy? What is stopping him?”

The Politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also took a dig at the Congress for not using its flags or those of its ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) during the roadshow in Wayanad. At a presser on April 5, he said, “Isn’t it a symbol of cowardice? You want the votes of the IUML, but you don’t want its flags. To hide the green flags of IUML from the world, you (Congress) have even applied untouchability to your own flags and stooped so low.”

His comments had touched a nerve within the Congress and IUML. In 2019, when Gandhi first arrived to contest in Wayanad, the presence of the IUML flag, which is similar to the Pakistani flag, had elicited sharp reactions from the BJP. The Kerala chief minister, through his jibe, was hinting that the Congress purposely hid the flags of IUML to prevent a BJP attack.

Congress MP from Kozhikode MK Raghavan countered Vijayan’s claims and alleged the CPI(M) was only fishing for Muslim votes in the name of CAA.

“When the CAA Bill came up for discussion in both Houses of Parliament, our MPs opposed it tooth and nail. We demanded the withdrawal of the Bill. But it was unilaterally passed by voice vote. However, we still said that the law was unconstitutional as it was isolating one community in terms of giving citizenship to migrants. The people, especially minorities, recognise our stand very well,” Raghavan told HT during his campaign.

“CPI(M), on the other hand, is raising this issue purely to get Muslim votes in this election. They are not sincere in their approach towards the community. My experience tells me that the community will not get trapped in their tricks,” he said.

A leader of the Congress, requesting anonymity, said while the party is spreading the word about CAA, it does not want to overdo it. “If we overdo it, it can become counterproductive and result in alienation of other communities like Hindus. There could be severe consequences to religious harmony in the region,” he said.

Rahul Gandhi’s remarks at the public meeting at Kozhikode on April 17 was seen as an example of such strategy. While he devoted 90% of his speech to the criticism of the Modi government and the electoral bond scheme, he underlined at the end that the party will never accept granting citizenship on the basis of religious lines. It was a clear response to the CPI(M)’s allegations and equally drew cheers from the crowds.

Asharaf A, head of the department of Islamic and West Asian Studies at the Kerala University, said the scenario in 2024 is quite different from the one in 2019.

“In 2019, Muslims in Malabar region had voted as a homogenous unit in favour of the UDF as they thought the Congress stood a good chance of forming a government at the Centre with Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister. The community wanted to play a part in such a formation. As a result, there were 19 UDF MPs in the Lok Sabha,” said Asharaf.

“But today, there is a feeling within the community that except for two to three MPs like Shashi Tharoor and NK Premachandran, the performance of the rest of them was not good at critical junctures, especially when minorities’ issues came to the forefront; that they didn’t speak effectively for the community. Today, I believe there is a thinking that there should be more left leaders in Parliament. So the kind of Muslim consolidation that happened in 2019 will not happen this time. The votes are likely to be divided,” he said, indicating that the LDF will improve its tally this time.

Asharaf pointed to the series of night marches and conventions held by the LDF ahead of the elections, particularly on CAA, sensing the disquiet within the Muslim community. “The LDF understood the unease in the community vis-a-vis CAA and held programmes by actively inviting Muslim religious and social outfits, including those that have not shown affinity to them. The influence of Samastha Kerala Jemiyyathul Ulama and other Sunni groups within the community is big and the LDF understands it very well,” he said.

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