CPM lights Bush-fire for Muslim votes in Kerala

via www.dailypioneer.com published on April 21, 2006

Kanchan Gupta | Thiruvananthapuram

In Muslim-dominated areas across Kerala, especially those where the Indian Union Muslim League till now has been the undisputed political force and its shimmering green festoons the only political colour, young and old voters stare in amazement at red banners emblazoned with the CPI(M)’s sickle, hammer and star symbol and the slogan “Lal Salam”.

What adds to their bewilderment is that Lal Salam is printed not in Malayalam but in Arabic. In some places, these banners have been put up, to the untrained eye, provocatively and audaciously near mosques and madarsas.

But these banners neither symbolise Communist provocation nor Marxist audacity. They are a public proclamation of the CPI(M)’s decision to actively woo the Muslim vote by striking an entente with fundamentalist organisations like Abdul Nasser Madani’s People’s Democratic Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Compared to the extremist views propagated by these outfits, the IUML’s policies and programmes come across as mellow and tolerably moderate. And by pandering to these views, the CPI(M) has managed to debilitate the IUML in several places, reducing Muslim support for the Congress-led UDF, according to opinion polls, to nearly half that of 2001.

This has understandably caused consternation and concern among UDF leaders, especially those of the Congress.

“VS Achuthanandan was abusing these very communal outfits till recently,” says Kerala State Congress vice-president and former Union Minister Mullappally Ramachandran who is visiting the party office during a break in his hectic campaign schedule. It’s hot and muggy and he orders a round of green coconuts.

“Suddenly, the CPI(M) is wooing the Muslims like never before,” he says, adding, “This shows that they are desperate for votes and not too sure about winning on the strength of their traditional supporters.”

Local workers of the CPI(M) say they are not taking chances. In more than 50 of the 140 Assembly constituencies of Kerala, the margin of victory – or defeat – is less than 2,000 votes.

“Every fourth Keralite is a Muslim and barring 10-odd constituencies, the Muslim vote could make or break an election,” explains MI Shanavas, Kerala State Congress general secretary. He is the party pointperson for Muslim affairs and rattles off statistics to drive home his point.

“I would say in half the constituencies the Muslims are in a sizeable number. This almost makes them the deciding factor,” Mr Shanavas says. In Malabar region comprising six districts and with 53 seats, “Muslim voters hold sway in 30 to 40 seats,” adds Mr Ramachandran.

But it’s not in Malabar alone that the Muslim vote is significant this time round. In Thiruvananthapuram East and Ernakulam City constituencies, which are dominated by Nairs, Muslims could decide the final outcome.

“There are 10,000 Muslim voters in each of these constituencies. That negates all caste calculations and makes the Muslim vote the deciding factor,” explains Mr Shanavas.

And if the Congress is aware of this, the CPI(M) is making all efforts to reap the Muslim vote. “The UPA Government is implementing George Bush’s common minimum programme, not the one that we worked out with the Congress,” Prakash Karat, local boy and CPI(M) general secretary, tirelessly reminds people every time he addresses an election rally.

The message is as much aimed at party cadre as at Muslims, many of whom, as in the Hindi States, see President Bush as an “enemy” of Muslims and by extension Islam. For good measure, Mr Karat and his comrades do not forget to mention how the Congress has let down Iran under American pressure.

This is not the first time that Bush has played a role in Kerala elections. In 1990, EMS Namboodiripad declared his party’s support for Saddam Hussein and opposition to Bush Senior on the eve of the first Gulf War and the Left swept the panchayat election. Last September’s panchayat election saw the CPI(M) berating Bush Junior, backing Iran and sweeping the poll.

The latest declarations are only the icing on the cake. The Marxists’ dalliance with communal politics in Kerala began much before election was announced.

“Ever since senior CPI(M) leader TK Hamza won the Manjeri Lok Sabha seat in Malabar, wresting it for the first time from the IUML, in 2004, the party has been assiduously courting Muslim organisations that denounce the League as too soft to look after the community’s communal interests,” says a professor of political science disenchanted with the Marxists’ communal politics. He requests not to be quoted.

As part of this policy, the CPI(M) has been in the forefront of demanding the release of notorious extremist Abdul Nasser Madani who is at present cooling his heels in Coimbatore Central Jail on charges of masterminding the 1999 bombings. At least 59 were killed and more than a hundred injured in that terror attack minutes before BJP leader LK Advani arrived for a scheduled rally.

When the UDF, in a sly move to secure the support of Madani and his People’s Democratic Party that brazenly espouses extremism, moved a resolution in the State Assembly demanding medical care for the obese proponent of radical Islam, the CPI(M) swiftly moved in and did one better.

It moved an amendment seeking the release of Madani and the amended resolution was passed on the day rest of India was celebrating Holi. Later, Mr TK Hamza visited Coimbatore Central Jail and spent a long time chatting up Madani. Within days, the PDP declared its support for the CPI(M) and the LDF. The Jamaat-e-Islami followed suit.

The IUML, which won 16 seats in 2001, finds itself unable to fob off the aggressive anti-UDF campaign of the PDP and the Jamaat. Union Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahmed is being feted in his backyard in Malabar, but elsewhere he is being berated for “implementing the Congress’s pro-America – and, therefore, ‘anti-Islam/Muslim policy’ – while disregarding Muslim sentiments”.

The UDF did have an advantage over the LDF after announcing the implementation of the Narendran Commission report that sets aside jobs for Muslims. But the lure of jobs has been swamped by militant rhetoric. The CPI(M) is offering both jobs and jihad.

For the IUML, which played an active role in overthrowing the country’s first Communist Government in 1959 and later flirted with the Communists occasionally, 2006 may mark a watershed in its history. If the PDP gains political clout, it can only mean bad news for the IUML.

Meanwhile, the so-called National Development Front, which offers a platform to radical Islamists of all persuasions and is believed to have infiltrated the bureaucracy, the police and other organs of the state, is sitting on the fence. If whispered rumours are to be believed, they have begun to send feelers to the CPI(M).

“They all want to be with the winning side. But whose victory will it be? The Marxists or the Islamists?” wonders the professor who has voted Left all his life.

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