“In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, I voted for the UDF to stop the BJP from coming back to power. When Rahul Gandhi contested from Wayanad, we wanted him to be the Prime Minister,” says Abdur Rehman, a self-proclaimed LDF supporter.
However, the Congress disappointed, he says. “It failed to stop the BJP, never took a stand to give us hope or confidence.”
Soon, there is a crowd around Rehman’s mini-truck in Koduvally town — arguing over the merits of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a Congress ally, and CPM-led LDF.
The UDF candidate from Koduvally is IUML leader and two-time Kozhikode South MLA M K Muneer, while the LDF has repeated sitting MLA Karat Razaq. Confusing the fact further is that Razaq used to be with the IUML.
While the Muslim vote may get split, the BJP-led NDA may cut into votes of both sides — a concern mirrored across Kerala.
At 27% of the state’s population, Muslims have been the bulwark of the UDF’s base. That choice has been muddled by the Congress’s perceived soft Hindutva, on everything from Article 370 and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act to the beef controversy; smaller organisations wooing the community; the IUML’s withering charm; and, most importantly, LDF Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s towering image as the only strongman who can hold off the BJP.
Trying to widen its appeal, the IUML has fielded a woman candidate for the first time in 25 years, from Kozhikode South.
Amidst a confident LDF campaign centred around Vijayan, his government’s development works and handling of crises such as Covid-19, the Congress is still struggling with choice of candidates in several seats. And the message coming from the Muslim community is not rosy.
Vijayan, meanwhile, has been wooing them by taking on the BJP as well as sharing the stage with Muslim leaders.
“The CPM is directly talking to Muslims… They feel the CM and his party will protect them,” says N P Chekkutty, a leading political analyst.
Vijayan is also popular among Muslim women. “The Communist party is good for women of all sections,” says Subaida, sifting through jewellery at a showroom in Kozhikode. “He has taken care of the poor, improved educational institutions,” says Fathimatulla Ashita, a first-time voter.
While few, one of the UDF’s plus points is the Congress promise of Rs 2,000 monthly pension for homemakers, aimed at women voters.
With improved social status in the last two decades and rising education levels, Muslims no longer choose blindly, says Hameed Chenngamangaloor, a prominent social critic.
C P Sirajudhin, Manager of Markas Orphanage in Kunnamangalam, belongs to the Samastha Kerala Sunni Jamiyyathul Ulama faction led by E K Aboobackar Musaliyar, which supports the LDF. He says, “People have seen how this government dealt with adversarial circumstances — Nipah, floods Covid… The new generation feels the Left reacts to their concerns.”
The LDF may also get the backing of Muslim party Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of the Popular Front of India, which has been targeted by the Modi government. The SDPI considers both the IUML and the Welfare Party of India its rivals. The Welfare Party is expected to back the Congress.
The IUML is trying to counter the anger against the Congress by explaining some of its measures as needed to hold off the BJP in north India. “The CPM does not have a stake in other states,” argues Shamsuddin Kalathingal, a local IUML leader in Koduvally.
About Muslim youth and women voting for the LDF, he says, “They realise that being in power is very crucial.. A weak Congress is not in the community’s interest.”