Updated: January 23, 2022 11:04:58 pm
The Congress is grappling with a new challenge in Kerala now. The grand old party which had always been targeted for being a party “controlled by minority communities” in the state, is now being attacked for projecting its “Hindu face”.
Seizing on top Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi’s recent harping on the “Hindu versus Hindutvavadi” theme and his remarks such as that “this is a country of Hindus, not of Hindutvavadis”, the CPI(M) has gone after the Congress, slamming it for “highlighting its Hindu credentials” and ignoring the minorities.
CPI(M) state secretary and Politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has kept the ruling party’s gun trained on the principal Opposition party on the issue. While addressing a number of party conferences in various districts over the last one week, he has charged the Congress with relegating the minorities to the margins based on “Rahul’s view that Hindus should rule the country”.
Balakrishnan maintained a standard line of attack at these conferences. “Senior Congress leaders belonging to minority communities like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Salman Khurshid and K V Thomas have been sidelined in the Congress now. In Kerala too, Congress has sidelined minorities in a departure from its practice of giving due share to them in party leadership positions. The party used to ensure minority presence in its leadership as part of its secular politics. Now Congress has changed that practice, which is against its professed secular stand,” he said.
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What seemed to have fuelled the CPI(M) attack on the Congress is the current faces of the latter’s leadership in the state. Over the last four decades, leaders from the minority communities such as A K Antony and Oommen Chandy dominated the Congress leadership in the organisation or the legislature party / government. When the party however effected a change of guard last year, it appointed K Sudhakaran as the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president and V D Satheesan as Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly. Both belong to the majority Hindu community, Sudhakaran from the backward Ezhava caste and Satheesan from the upper caste Nair community.
The CPI(M), which is dubbed a “Hindu party” in Kerala, had always castigated the Congress for being a party “where minorities call the shots”. The inclusion of the regional Christian party Kerala Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the high-profile roles that they have traditionally played in the UDF affairs have also reinforced such perceptions and charges.
By raking up the Congress’s alleged bid to ignore the minorities at the altar of majoritarian politics, the CPI(M) seems to be aiming to further weaken the former’s support bases in Kerala. In the state Assembly elections held in April last year, an unprecedented shift of minority votes helped the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) retain power. If Muslims found in Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan a strong bulwark against the BJP, Christians also switched to the CPI(M) as they wanted to prevent the IUML from gaining control of the UDF.
The CPI(M) has sought to play up the Congress’s alleged neglect of the minority communities at a time when minority politics seems to be at a crossroads, enabling the former to capitalise on the minorities’ perceived predicament in order to expand its bases.
The exit of Oommen Chandy from the Congress leadership and the disintegration of various factions of the Kerala Congress, especially after the demise of the Christian political satrap K M Mani in April 2019, left a vacuum in Christian politics, while also leading to the community’s further alienation from the Congress. In October 2020, a leading faction of the Kerala Congress (M), led by Mani’s son Jose K Mani, joined the LDF and is now part of the LDF government.
Just ahead of the Assembly polls, the Congress had brought back Chandy as its campaign committee chairman, but that could not help to prevent the erosion of its vote base in Central Kerala which has a sizeable Christian population.
On the other side of minority politics, the Congress and the IUML suffered another jolt when the CPI(M) recently managed to win over the confidence of prominent Muslim clerics’ body Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulema, popularly known as Samastha, as the Vijayan government climbed down over its decision to hand over the Wakf Board appointments to the Public Service Commission (PSC) following a discussion with the Samastha leaders.
While the IUML wanted a massive Muslim protest against the LDF government on this matter, the Samastha backed out from it, defusing the agitation. This has also helped the CPI(M) in denting the IUML’s vote bank among Sunni Muslims in the state.
The Congress has hit back at the Left, with Satheesan alleging that the CPI(M) was spreading communalism. “Let CPI(M) introspect whether that party has brought a minority face to the leadership of either the party or the government. CPI(M) is trying to woo minorities by distorting the words of Rahul Gandhi, who said India is a country of Hindus, not Hindutvavadis. CPI(M) is trying to divide society. Congress in Kerala has included leaders and workers from all communities. Our party has the support of all sections of people,’’ he said.
Behind the CPI(M)’s attack over sidelining of the minorities, the Congress sees an agenda to promote a young Muslim CPI(M) face Mohammed Riyas, CM Vijayan’s son-in-law, as its next CM candidate. It is another matter that the Congress does not have any prominent Muslim face in its state leadership.
Senior Congress leader K Muraleedharan claimed that Balakrishnan’s attack on the Congress is part of a larger CPI(M) agenda to project Riyas as the next CM candidate. “CPI(M) had never made a minority face as its party state secretary or CM. Now, they want to project Riyas for the post of next party CM candidate. But that should not be at the cost of Congress,’’ he said.
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