| What's green outside and red within? The answer, for most, is the watermelon. But not in Malappuram, the Muslim-dominated district in north Kerala, where the fruit is in much demand these days to beat the scorching sun. Here, the answer will invariably be: Muslim Marxists. |
The state has been a Left stronghold, having voted in the world's first democratically elected communist government nearly 50 years ago, but in Malappuram, the communists have been anathema. That was until two years ago when the CPI(M) broke the hegemony of the Muslim League over the community by notching an unprecedented victory in the Manchery Lok Sabha constituency. The three-phase Assembly elections starting this week are the CPI(M)'s next port of call as the party tries to win over the state's Muslim community, which forms 22 per cent of Kerala's population.
This time the Reds' attempt to strike a chord in this patch of green in the Malabar region has surprisingly received support from both the Jamat-e-Islami (JEI) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) led by the rabble-rousing cleric, Abdul Nasser Madani, who is imprisoned in a Tamil Nadu jail for his alleged role in the 1996 Coimbatore bomb blasts that nearly killed, among others, BJP leader L.K. Advani. The JEI and the PDP have asked their workers to support the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the polls. "We have decided to support the Left because they sympathise with the cause of the minorities and the weaker sections of society, and also stand up against US imperialism and Fascist forces," says T. Arifali, the chief of the Kerala JEI. In a letter written from prison, Madani asked his vast number of followers to teach the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) a lesson for failing to keep its promise to get him released from jail. The LDF also expects to get the support of the Samastha Kerala Jamaat Ulema, an organisation of Sunni clerics nicknamed "sickle Sunnis" for its traditional sympathy for Left parties and a general disdain for the Muslim League, which claims to represent the interests of the community in the state.
The CPI(M), while gleefully lapping it up, is, at the same time, hard put to explain the U-turn on its avowed stand not to enter into any alliance-covert or overt-with communal outfits. Its leaders feign innocence, saying that the two Muslim outfits had volunteered their support. "The Left's hypocrisy is fully exposed. They have taken the support of organisations they once called communal," says Vayalar Ravi, Congress leader and Union minister for overseas Indian affairs. He defends his party's alliance with the PDP in the last elections, terming it a common front against Marxist authoritarianism. "The CPI(M) calls us communal but has no qualms in seeking the support of Muslim fundamentalist groups when it suits them. But it will cut no ice with the Muslim masses who abhor fundamentalism," adds P.K. Kunhalikutty, general secretary, Muslim League.
The CPI(M)'s chief ministerial candidate V.S. Achuthanandan, however, defends the new affinity, saying, "We did not seek their support and our opposition to their policies is well known." However, the party thinks Madani has been denied basic human rights. "Why has he been kept in jail without bail for so long, without even a trial?" asks Achuthanandan. That even the ruling front, with an eye on the vote bank, has sympathy for the jailed PDP leader was evident when it piloted a resolution in the state Assembly asking the Tamil Nadu Government to grant Madani bail. The resolution was unanimously passed with the support of the LDF.
This love for Madani is not a new phenomenon, for both the LDF and the UDF have tried to woo him in past elections. Shortly before the last Assembly election in 2001, Oommen Chandy, the convener of the UDF Coordination Committee, had visited Madani in jail and promised to get him released in lieu of the PDP's support for the UDF. If Madani was not released, it wasn't for want of effort. Chandy and other Congress leaders even visited Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa more than once to plead Madani's case, but their efforts came to naught in the face of sustained opposition from the AIADMK.
This time too, Madani is being eagerly sought by politicians from the neighbouring state. The past couple of weeks have seen a virtual queue of political leaders of all hues outside Madani's Coimbatore jail. Several UDF candidates from north Kerala, which has a large Muslim presence, as well as T.K. Hamza, a prominent CPI(M) MP, visited him in prison. At a recent state conference of the PDP, delegates included the leaders of the CPI(M) and its Left ally, the Revolutionary Socialist Party. There are even reports of the possible formation of a Muslim United Front, an umbrella organisation of all Muslim bodies in the state under JEI allied with the LDF, which will subsequently be expanded to the national level.
The BJP obviously considers the LDF-Muslim alliance loud proof of the Left's pseudo-secularism. "They always declare they don't want BJP or RSS votes. Can they dare say this about JEI and PDP votes if they are against their policies?" asks P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, BJP state president. "Both the UDF and the LDF are in alliance with anti-national forces," he adds. BJP Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu too has taken both the fronts to task for their appeasement policy. "Both the UDF and the LDF are playing the communal card in their appeal for Madani's rights. How can somebody who plotted to kill people deserve human rights?" asks Naidu. "It's these communal and casteist games the UDF and the LDF play which do not let the BJP open its account in the state Assembly."
For the moment, the CPI(M) is leaving nothing to chance in its attempt to inflict a fatal blow on the faction-ridden Muslim League. It has fielded prominent League dissidents as CPI(M)-supported independents in two seats in Malappuram and Kozhikode districts. Former secretary of the Muslim Youth League, T.K. Jaleel, faces Kunhalikutty, former minister embroiled in the ice-cream parlour sex scandal in Kuttipuram. P.T.A. Rahim, another Muslim League dissident, is being fielded against K. Muralidharan, the son of former Kerala chief minister K. Karunakaran. The fact that the two UDF candidates are not exactly the best examples of public morality might just make the LDF's task easier. In this case, the CPI(M) will have achieved more than a toehold in the once impregnable Muslim fortress.