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Panakkad Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal interview: ‘This election is very critical for IUML, Muslim community’

"We are really concerned about the agenda of the BJP. We hope people of Kerala will stand for secular traditions and communal harmony," Panakkad Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal said.

Written by Shaju Philip |
Updated: March 23, 2021 5:41:46 pm
Panakkad Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal

A member of the IUML’s high-power committee, Thangal belongs to the Malappuram-based prominent Panakkad family, which holds considerable influence over Kerala’s Muslim voters. IUML is an ally of the Congress-led UDF alliance in Kerala.

What is your assessment of the UDF’s chances in the polls?

The anti-incumbency factor is strong against the ruling LDF government. The illegal backdoor appointments of sympathisers of the ruling party in government departments has betrayed the trust of lakhs of unemployed youths in the state. There are strong sentiments against the government in the coastal areas over the move to allow foreign trawlers. Besides, the autocratic style of functioning of the government is totally against the coalition politics in Kerala. The present LDF government is led by one person only. One person thinks. He decides, he executes decisions. People don’t feel the open-mindedness of a coalition government or its politics. People are looking for a coalition government representing their sentiments and only UDF can provide such a government.

We have an array of good candidates. However, the most important factor is the unity of the UDF. Most of the disputes in the Congress over candidature have been settled and our campaign is in full swing. Exit of a few leaders like P C Chacko from the Congress will not impact the prospects of the UDF in Kerala.

But, the LDF government says it has implemented many big projects in the state.

All governments have implemented major projects. In Kerala, the credit for projects cannot go to any particular government. The previous UDF government had done a lot of development work and launched mega projects. Despite all, we were thrown out of power as public sentiments were against us.

The CPI (M) has been reaching out to Muslim voters. Does the IUML still hold as much sway over the community as it did earlier?

IUML is still growing as a political party. The CPI (M) is trying to create an impression that they would give special protection to the Muslims. To create that impression, CPI (M) banks upon raising certain issues such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Congress has also made its stand clear on the issue, that the CAA would not be implemented. To weaken the Congress and the UDF, they (the CPM) are saying only the Left can fight against communalism and fascism… In fact, the CPI (M) is backing the BJP’s agenda of a Congress-free country.

The BJP is calling for a Congress-free Kerala in these polls.

We are really concerned about the agenda of the BJP. Hence, this election is very critical for the IUML as well as the Muslim community in Kerala. We hope people of Kerala will stand for secular traditions and communal harmony. In the last few weeks, we have held discussions with leaders of various communities and religious heads. People of Kerala have a strong culture of mingling with members of other communities. That culture is our hope and it should remain intact. The promise of ‘starting harmony centres in villages and urban areas’ in the UDF manifesto was a suggestion from the IUML.

Both Muslims and Christians form a chunk of the UDF’s base in Kerala. But now cracks seem to have emerged between the two communities.

In fact, it was after the local body elections that we felt that Christians have developed an aloofness with the Muslim community. That might have contributed to the reduction in UDF votes in local body elections. It is time for the minorities to stand together. We have made efforts to clear misunderstandings. My article on reconversion of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque was misinterpreted. I have spoken to Church leaders to clear the air. Secondly, Christians are aggrieved over the 80:20 ratio in distribution of minority scholarships. Any discrepancies in the scholarship distribution can be looked into. We want the government to bring a white paper on the issue. IUML has never taken a stand against the Church. It was my later father Panakkad Pukkoya Thangal who had supported Catholics to construct a church in Malappuram, when they faced protest from a section of the Muslim community.

There is rebellion in the IUML over tickets to candidates. Has the matter been resolved?

Such issues have been solved in a day. Since the last local body elections, we take opinions from various quarters at the grassroots level before fixing candidates. There is more democracy in the IUML now. But, the IUML alone should not be blamed for not giving enough space to women. In the present 140-strong Assembly, there were only eight women legislators. This time we have brought that change by fielding a woman candidate after 25 years. Also, two non-Muslims are contesting from IUML seats, a Hindu and a Dalit.

There have been allegations that the IUML is leading the Congress

The detractors of the Congress are worried about the support that the party gets in Kerala. In no other state, Congress has such a long-standing ally. In Kerala, we are strengthening the Congress to lead the UDF from the front. The IUML is not leading the Congress.

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