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Monday, May 17, 2021

In Kerala’s Left sway, Muslims, Christians make themselves count

The instant response of the CPI (M) in Kerala – a human chain against the CAA and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's announcement that the amended citizenship law would not be implemented in Kerala – found favour with pro-IUML Muslim organisations.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: May 4, 2021 7:07:29 am
Pinarayi Vijayan with Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan at Raj Bhavan. (Photo: PTI)

BEHIND THE CPI (M)-led LDF’s thumping win in the Kerala polls, there is also a clear shift of two minority communities, Muslims and Christians, who used to be traditionally the backbone of Congress-led UDF. Both communities have different reasons to rally behind the CPI (M), abandoning the Congress.

After the anti-CAA protest of 2019, the Muslim community got closer to the CPI (M) as the party got identified as the force to take on the BJP. The instant response of the CPI (M) in Kerala – a human chain against the CAA and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s announcement that the amended citizenship law would not be implemented in Kerala – found favour with even pro-IUML Muslim organisations. In the run-up to the elections, Vijayan reiterated that Kerala would not implement the CAA.

Also, the BJP manifesto in several ways was a cause of concern in the Muslim community. It promised a law against “love jihad”, and government eye on foreign remittance, and religious organisations to prevent extremism. The party mobilised a battery of senior leaders from outside the state to campaign on a strong Hindutva agenda.

Senior BJP leader Kummanam Rajasekharan declared that the party would convert Nemom – the lone seat it held in the previous assembly – to Gujarat. While the Congress remained silent, a reassurance came from Vijayan, who said the LDF would close the BJP’s Nemom account as well.

The Left’s confidence converted into votes in the community– as the election results show. In constituencies such as Nemom and Kazhakkoottam, where the BJP was comfortably placed, Muslim voters rallied behind the CPI (M), leading to the LDF winning these two seats.

In Kottayam’s Poonjar seat, the Muslim community’s choice was LDF as well, against sitting legislator P C George, who lost favour because of his anti-Muslims statements. The Muslim community here had traditionally stood with the UDF – George had been part of UDF for several decades. But when it came to defeating the legislator who once strayed into the NDA camp, the choice was clearly not the UDF. The Congress finished third in Poonjar.

In Thiruvananthapuram central, where the BJP put up a strong fight, the Muslims’ choice was not Congress strongman V S Sivakumar, but lesser known LDF candidate Antony Raju, who emerged as a surprise winner.

In IUML base Malappuram, the LDF retained the four seats it bagged last time. Besides, it brought down the margin of the IUML in several seats.

The Christian community on the other hand had a separate reason to lean towards the Left. A sizable chunk of votes, particularly Catholic, in central Kerala districts of Idukki, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta went to the LDF as a mark of protest towards the growing influence of IUML in the UDF.

The Congress faced this election at a time a rift between both its vote banks of Muslims and Christians grew deeper over sharing of quota in minority welfare schemes. The Church had been critical of the IUML calling the shots in the UDF and feared that if the UDF returned to power it would affect the interests of Christians.

The resignation of senior IUML leader P K Kunhalikutty as MP to contest in the state polls added fuel to that debate. Also, IUML bonhomie with Jamaat-e-Islami was a reason for the Church to disengage with the UDF.

The BJP also stepped in with its campaign against “love jihad”, to drive a wedge between the two communities that once stood with the Congress. During the elections, regional Christian party Kerala Congress (M) leader Jose K Mani’s statement that there is concern over love jihad, was targeted to tap the anti-Muslim sentiments prevailing in Central Kerala.

In Kozhikode district, the UDF lost one of its safest seats Thiruvambadi to the CPI (M) as a fallout of the Catholic community’s bitterness with the IUML.

Vijayan’s gestures to Christians included the appointment of a panel to study the community’s socio-economic condition and inclusion of convents and such religious communities within the ambit of subsidised ration system during the pandemic period.

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