Race on to woo minorities in Kerala

via VR Jayaraj | Kochi published on March 27, 2011

As campaigning for the April 13 polls to the 140-member Kerala Assembly picked up momentum with the filing of nominations coming to a close on Saturday, both the CPI(M)-led LDF and the Congress-led UDF are in a race to win the support of minority communities and their outfits. Scrutiny of the nominations will be done on Monday and the last date for withdrawal of papers is March 30.

What is bothering both the fronts, for whom the polls this time is equivalent to a do-or-die battle for several reasons, is the fact that most of the prominent minority formations have so far remained non-committal. However, observers say that the better gainer of minority support would be the Congress-led coalition.

The CPI(M), which had open alliance with Islamist organizations like the PDP of Abdul Nasser Madani and the Jama’at-e-Islami in the past many elections, have so far kept a safe distance from them in this election. The PDP is contesting the April 13 election all alone while the Jama’at is yet to decide on whom to support.

The Marxists, who had taken the electoral support of the Jama’at-e-Islami for over a decade, had last year decided to distance itself away from that outfit and termed it extremist when discussions on Islamist threat was raging in Kerala. Almost at the same time, the Muslim League, a partner in the UDF, also dropped its secret move to strike a deal with that organization.

However, sources in the CPI(M) admitted that discussions were going on with the Jama’at-e-Islami. T Arifali, the organization’s Kerala head, says that they are yet to decide whether the policy of supporting candidates should be on individual or coalition basis. Presently, there is no justification for supporting any of the two fronts, he says.

At the same time, indications are that the powerful Sunni sect led by Kanthapuram AP Aboobacker Musliar would stand with the Left as usual, particularly in the context of the reluctance of their rival group, the EK Sunni sect which supports the Muslim League, to positively respond to a call for cooperation. Muslims constitute 24 percent of the Kerala population while Christians form 19 percent.

Both the Congress and the CPI(M) are still clueless as to how the Christian voters would respond in the polls, though the Congress takes their support for granted, judging from the way the senior clergy had been attacking the LDF Government for the past five years over vexed issues related to self-financing professional colleges, aided schools and alleged overdose of atheism in academic textbooks.

Though the Catholic Church had long back decided to support the UDF, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath had last week threatened to review the decision in the context of the Congress refusing to field the desired number of Christian candidates in constituencies coming in the area of the Thrissur Archdiocese.

This had prompted the Congress to do some damage-control exercise. Leaders of the party said that the Catholic Church would stand with the UDF in this election and that minor problems in candidate selection would not affect that. At the same time, it is said that the Church could be selective in its support. For example, it is likely to support CPI’s Rajaji Mathew Thomas in the Ollur seat in Thrissur.

The Orthodox Church, highly influential in central and eastern Kerala and a traditional supporter of the Congress, has given indirectly threatened to adopt a different approach in this election because they have been totally sidelined in the selection of candidates. They complained that Opposition leader Oommen Chandy was the only Orthodox candidate of the Congress.

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