Left, Congress or IUML? Kerala’s 29% Muslim vote remains divided

The Muslim vote had gone largely with the CPI-M-led LDF in 2006 and then in the recent local body elections.

Written by Liz Mathew | Thanur (malappuram) | Updated: April 27, 2016 8:43 am
At VS rally in Malappuram. Liz Mathew At VS rally in Malappuram. (Source: Liz Mathew)

A tug-of-war for Kerala’s crucial Muslim vote has raised the prospect of a division. The Muslim vote had gone largely with the CPI-M-led LDF in 2006 and then in the recent local body elections. Yet strategists in the Congress-led UDF, which includes the Indian Union Muslim League, as well as some communist leaders agree that Muslims have started drifting back towards the ruling front.

The CPM had campaigned intensely during the beef controversy but Congress Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and the IUML too have since made consistent efforts to win back a community that constitutes 29 per cent of the population.

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As for the BJP, not everyone in Muslim-majority Malappuram appears insecure about the party’s emergence. “Here we feel safe. We have a party to raise our issues. And all important parties in the state stand for us,” said N M Ali, a driver in Thiroorangadi.

“But,” said Muhammad Riaz, a CPM leader in Kozhikode, “recent trends like celebrating Rakshabandan and Ganeshotsav as exclusively Hindu festivals has created fear among some Muslims.”

In his speeches, CPM veteran V S Achuthananandan has been talking of “evil powers like Sangh Parivar” and its “anti-minority stands”. At a rally Sunday in Perinthalmanna, Malappuram, he said: “RSS leader (M S) Golwalkar has said this country needs neither Muslims nor Christians. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while he was chief minister of Gujarat, had let a massacre of around 3,000 Muslims happen… I am just reminding you of these incidents.”

In the November local body polls, the LDF won 47 of the 75 seats in Kozhikode corporation, besides 30 of the 94 panchayats, two of 15 blocks and four of 15 municipalities in Malappuram — all Congress-IUML strongholds. Overall, the LDF won 545 of 938 gram panchayats, 91 of 152 blocks, and seven of 14 districts, a sign that it retained its Hindu base besides winning Muslims over.

The IUML, which owes its clout to the 15-odd seats it often bags in Malabar region, is working at regaining lost ground. “The UDF is doing a lot for this region,” said Panakkad Hyderali Thangal, IUML leader and spiritual head of Muslims in the region. “Roads and institutes have come up. The CM’s mass contact programme has improved our image. More youth are getting close to us now.”

N P Chekkutty, a Kozhikode-based political analyst, said, “As if he has realised the impact of his wavering stand on the Dadri killing and the beef raid in Kerala House —both had shaken Muslims in Malabar—Chandy has stepped in. In the last six months, he visited Malabar region frequently, interacted with people, met community leaders… It seems to have started working. When he visited a school, a class IV student called out his name and asked him to get a house built for her poor friend. He may or may not do it, but he has an image of being accessible.”

Chekkutty said the IUML, having also lost many of its strongholds in southern Kerala, has taken care while selecting candidates not to upset party workers. “So the Muslim vote, which went towards the UDF in 2011, and towards the LDF in 2006, may not go the same way as in the panchayat polls,” he said. The IUML won 16 seats in Malappuram in 2001, 7 in 2006 and 20 in 2011.

The IUML has striven to give Kerala’s Muslims. But, “IUML leaders have become power-hungry, people feel cheated by them,” said Moideen, who has returned from Saudi Arabia to start a small shop in Mankada.

The IUML’s fluctuating fortunes have given rise to smaller but hardline forces like Abdul Nasir Maudany’s People’s Democratic Party, Indian National League, Welfare Party and Social Democratic Party of India.

M N Karassery, writer and columnist on political and social issues, said a section of Muslim youths are insecure about “beef politics” and the Sangh Parivar. “This fear is leading them towards extremist forces like SDPI – which draws its inspiration from SIMI – and Welfare Party. It’s a very dangerous trend.”

Hameed Chennamangaloor, a social commentator, gave another reason: “People have noticed the CPM is not committed to secularism but will sacrifice its secular credentials for electoral gains. So disillusioned youth started moving towards the RSS and Muslim fundamentalist groups. Hameed dismissed the idea of homogeneity: “Muslims are divided on political, economical and cultural aspects. So are their votes, among the CPM, the Congress, the IUML and other parties.”

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