Sensing disquiet among Muslims, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala has reversed its decisions on three contentious issues in the last couple of weeks — gender-neutral uniforms, appointment of a district magistrate, and Waqf Board appointments. The climbdowns, CPI(M) insiders said, were the result of the Left’s attempts to not completely alienate a minority community that has traditionally backed the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
Education minister V Sivankutty of the CPI(M) on Wednesday announced that the government had no plans of introducing gender-neutral uniforms in schools. The minister changed his mind barely 48 hours after declaring that the state would go ahead with its plan to create gender awareness and gender equality among students. The minister claimed that the CPI(M)’s progressive stand was a response to Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) MLA Dr MK Muneer’s statement that under the guise of gender-neutral uniform and gender equality the CPI(M) was promoting denial of religion among students. Sivankutty labelled the IUML leader’s thinking “outdated” and said it belonged to the 16th century.
The Pinarayi Vijayan government had introduced gender-neutral uniforms and allowed both girls and boys to sit on the same benches to promote gender equality. By coming out against the gender-neutral uniforms, Muneer, known for his progressive stand on social issues, reflected growing resentment within the community towards such changes.
Growing protests by Muslims also forced the LDF government to shunt out Alappuzha Collector and District Magistrate Sriram Venkitaraman on Monday, barely a week after he was appointed to the post. Venkitaraman is an accused in the case of drunken driving in which journalist KM Basheer was killed in 2019. Basheer was a reporter with the “Siraj” daily, a newspaper of the Sunni Muslim community led by Kanthapuram Aboobacker Musaliyar.
Following Venkitaraman’s appointment, Muslim organisations mounted protests against the Government. Last Saturday, the Kerala Muslim Jamaat led by Kanthapuram, who is known for his pro-CPI(M) stand, held massive protests in all districts and demanded that the government review the decision. They said the CPI(M) should not wound a segment that traditionally stands with the party. Barely two days after the protest rallies, the government removed the IAS officer.
On Thursday, in an article in party daily “Deshabhimani”, CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan justified the decision to remove Venkitaraman. He wrote, “Venkitaraman was removed as the district collector considering the public sentiments. The LDF gives consideration to such democratic protests.”
BJP state president K Surendran claimed that the government’s decision to remove the district collector gave out a “wrong and dangerous message”. He added, “It shows the cowardice of those at the helm. They don’t have the backbone to implement a decision. The removal of the collector under pressure gives a wrong precedent.”
On July 20, the Vijayan-led administration reversed its decision to hand over Waqf Board appointments to the State Public Service Commission after pushback from Muslim organisations and IUML. Vijayan changed his mind on the issue only after he managed to win the confidence of pro-IUML scholars’ body Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul Ulama, which led the protest. With this, Vijayan also thrust a wedge between Samastha and the IUML, which have always sailed together on all matters related to the community.