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N-deal, Palestine are poll issues for two Kerala seats

Guess what the people of two constituencies in Kerala want to know from political parties? Not so much about regional or national issues, but the parties' stance on Palestine and the India-US nuclear deal.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2009 11:53 IST

Guess what the people of two constituencies in Kerala want to know from political parties? Not so much about regional or national issues, but the parties' stance on Palestine and the India-US nuclear deal.

Voters in Malappuram and Ponnani - where Sunni Muslims are in a majority - also want to know what candidates have to say about President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, whom they admire for their anti-US stance.

Candidates contesting from these two north Kerala constituencies are grilled more often about these issues than on what they will do for the development of the areas. Kerala goes to the polls in the first phase April 16.

"Anti-American leaders Chavez and Ahmadinejad are heroes in Malappuram," said Faisal Mariyad, who grew up in Manjeri in Malappuram district and is currently pursuing a doctorate in sociology at Jawarharlal Nehru University (JNU) in the national capital.

Political leaders campaigning for the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) are trying hard to convince voters about their stance on issues like imperialism, the Gulf War, the Palestinian crisis and the reasons behind the economic meltdown.

"These two constituencies must probably be the only Lok Sabha seats in the country where the people actively discuss the India-US civil nuclear deal and its implications," Mariyad said on phone.

"The people, particularly Muslims, are very concerned about the developments in West Asia because every family in the region has Gulf connections. The district, which was backward, became prosperous from the money repatriated from the Gulf countries."

Though the area is a stronghold of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a key partner in the UDF, in 2004 the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) won from Manjeri, now merged in the newly carved out Malappuram constituency after delimitation.

IUML leader and Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed, who represents Ponnani in the current Lok Sabha, is the UDF candidate in Malappuram. T K Hamza of the CPI-M, who won from Manjeri, is his main opponent.

While the IUML has fielded former state education minister E T Mohammed Basheer in Ponnani, the LDF is supporting an independent candidate, Hussein Randathani, who enjoys the support of radical Islamic leader Abdul Nasir Maudany's People's Democratic Party (PDP) and a powerful section of the Sunni Muslims led by A.P. Aboobacker Musliyar, for the seat.

Faisal Mariyad said the "Muslim Ummah" or pan-Islamic concept is strong among the Malappuram Muslims. "The people here take the issues affecting Muslims anywhere in the world as their own issues, especially after the first America-Iraq war," he said.

The IUML views this as a "dangerous trend". Party leader and former minister M K Muneer said on phone: "Raising pan-Islamic issues for the election campaign among the innocent, peace-loving people here is a dangerous trend". He blamed the CPI-M for it.

While Muslims constitute 70 percent of the population in the Malappuram constituency, in Ponnani they comprise 60 percent.

"A majority of the Gulf returnees in the area are global citizens. Some are narrow-minded. The CPI-M is trying to influence the narrow-minded people, raising emotional issues," Muneer said.

"The CPI-M organised a national seminar on the India-US nuclear deal and its impact on Muslims in Malappuram. They are using some high-sounding words like imperialism, globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation to influence the people. It is not good for society or the country," he said.

"At least 20 percent of the total 1.5 million Keralites in the Gulf are from the Malappuram-Ponnani area," he pointed out.

However, LDF legislator Manjalamkuzhi Ali said on phone that the people of Malappuram were concerned over issues like imperialism and globalisation.

"The Muslims in Malabar are traditionally anti-imperialist. They have fought the British and feudals before independence. That spirit is still in their blood," said Ali, who represents Mankada, an assembly segment of the Malappuram Lok Sabha constituency.

T.K. Ayyoob, 28, a student in Delhi who hails from Malappuram, said people in his home town were obsessed with football and worshipped legendary Latin American footballers like Pele and Diego Maradona.

"If you visit Malappuram during the football World Cup, you will see small clubs with flags of Brazil and Argentina and and large boards with photographs and all details of Latin American football stars," said Ayyoob.

"E. Ahamed's candidature is one of the main reasons for discussing the international issues because as junior foreign minister he played a key role in formulating India's foreign policy, especially the country's policies towards the Muslim nations," said M. Saleem, a school teacher.

First Published: Apr 13, 2009 10:58 IST