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Published in the 16-31 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Politics of anti-Ahamed chorus by CPM & BJP
By Mukundan C. Menon

Thiruvananthapuram: No sooner Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh inducted E. Ahamed as the first-ever nominee of Indian Union Muslim League into the Union Cabinet in May 3rd week, the CPM and BJP launched criticism against it. These arch-rivaling patriarchs of communism and Hindutva in India launched the anti-Ahamed and anti-IUML attacks in tune with their respective political stands. 

However, much more than the BJP opposition, CPM's and Kerala's pro-left intellectuals anti-Ahamed/IUML chorus provided an opportunity to assess the depth of political inconsistency and opportunism adopted by CPM. The fact that the Congress-led UPA Ministry at the Center keeps its delicate majority support by depending upon the CPM-led Left Front makes the CPM's anti-Ahamed stand all the more important than that of the BJP.

For, the BJP opposition to Ahamed's becoming Union Minister was on the expected lines and in accordance with the long-drawn RSS thesis of anti-Muslim since its inception. Although the IUML was formed in post-Independent India in late 1947 at then Madras, Muslim League still symbolizes Mohammed Ali Jinnah for the RSS who happened to be RSS bet noire as the founder-father of Islamic Pakistan and the villain who divided their "Bharat Mata". For that precise reason, Kerala has always been targeted for the Hindutva diatribe since in Independent India the Muslim League could share power only in Kerala, and only from where it could repeatedly elect its members to the Lok Sabha. The Hindi-belt Hindutva ideologues also propagate that the Muslim-majority Malappuram district is a "mini-Pakistan" which was formed by the "pro-Chinese" Communist-led Government of EMS Namboodiripad in 1968 to appease the "pro-Pakistani" Muslims of Malabar! Given this background, it was nothing but natural that the BJP and RSS leadership could not digest the IUML National General Secretary Ahamed occupying a position in the Union Ministry now. According to Kerala's RSS think-tank, P. Parameswaran, Ahamed's induction into the Union Cabinet would "strengthen and legitimize Muslim terrorism" all over India, while former Union Minister in NDA Cabinet, O. Rajagopal, termed it as a "threat to national security".

The first salvo against Ahamed's induction from CPM camp came from its Politburo Member and Opposition leader in Kerala, V. S. Achuthanandan. Terming Ahamed's induction as "opportunist and anti-secular", Achuthanandan said : ''The people had voted against the BJP-led NDA regime to bring in a secular government at the Centre. But by inducting Ahamed, the Congress leadership has once again underlined its opportunistic stand. People who have been waiting to see a secular democratic government assume office in the country received a stab on their hearts with this decision." According to Achuthanandan, the decision would only foster majority and minority communalism in the country. The majority communalists would certainly use the presence of IUML in the Union Ministry as a handle to attack the secular forces, he added.

In tune with CPM Politburo meet at Kolkata endorsing Achuthanandan's stand, the CPM Kerala State Secretariat described Ahamed's induction as "a disgrace" to the popular verdict. "The induction of Ahamed had hurt the secular credentials of the UPA Government. It showed that the Congress is not prepared to take appropriate lessons from the people's verdict against its 'opportunistic policies' and 'communal appeasement'. The Congress has not realized from past experience that such actions only helped the BJP to pursue its communal agenda. Secularism can be upheld only by adopting an uncompromising position on majority and minority communalism", the CPM State Secretariat statement said. 

Significantly, while making these diatribes on "opportunism" and "secularism", the CPM comrades desperately want the general public to forget its own past alliance with the same Muslim League in Kerala. For the first time the Muslim League could share political power anywhere in post Independent India was when it joined as a ruling front partner in the CPM-led LDF Ministry headed by veteran CPM ideologue EMS Namboodiripad in 1967. Like now, in 1967 too it was a party of minority Muslims. To be more precise, the Muslim League has always remained as a party of Malabar Muslims in North Kerala with Malappuram as its political epicenter. While harping "secular criticism" against Ahamed's induction into the present Union Cabinet, the CPM ideologues miserably failed to explain whether the same Muslims League was a party of non-Muslims in 1967 to garner its "secular credentials". The CPM also could not present convincing political criteria as to how the Muslim League lost its "secular credentials" that the CPM bestowed on it in 1967 after it left the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) to join the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) since 1969.

Apparently CPM's definition of secularism appears to be too simple : only those who support the LDF is entitled for getting its secular certificate! Or else, the comrades have to make much explanation about the "secular credentials" of the pro-Christian, and also pro-US, Kerala Congress (Joseph) and Kerala Congress (George) groups, both partners in CPM-led LDF in Kerala and with small pockets of influence in central Travancore districts of Southern Kerala. Ironically, the CPM, which questions IUML's secularism, had no qualms to accept Indian National League (INL), led by former Muslim League leader Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait, as LDF's "unofficial" ally despite INL's pronounced pro-Muslim stands, which are harder than that of IUML on issues like Babri Masjid. True, Sulaiman Sait broke away from IUML to form INL in 1993 as a protest against IUML's continued alliance with Congress despite Narasimha Rao Government's failure to prevent Babri Masjid demolition by Hindutva forces in December 1992. Of course, that suits CPM's hitherto anti-Congress policy to unofficially accept Sait's INL as an LDF ally. However, the anti-Congress politics has now been drastically altered with CPM-led LDF providing majority support to Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre. There was a change in Sulaiman Sait, too, who said that the present policies of Sonia-led Congress is far differently better than the Rao-led Congress of early 90s. In other words, when CPM and its unofficial ally, INL, are supporting the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre, political honesty is amiss in CPM's singling out Ahamed's induction into the Cabinet for criticism on account of IUML's lack of secular credentials.

Ahamed's IUML, as a partner in the Congress-led UDF, has been sharing power in all the Congress-led Ministries in Kerala since 1969 (including in the Congress-backed CPI-led one between 1969-77). In fact, the first constitutional position that the Muslim League occupied in Independent India was when its Syed Ummer Bafakki Thangal became the Speaker of Kerala Assembly in 1960 under the then Congress-League-PSP alliance. In late 1970s, the veteran League leader C. H. Mohammed Koya also became Kerala Chief Minister for a brief period. This background is hard to digest for those who view it from the North, especially from the sectarian anti-Pak anti-Muslim hype of the Hindutva propaganda and without knowing the altogether different socio-cultural and political history of Kerala. It is a pity that the CPM, with its roots still only in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, made its anti-Ahamed criticism, which almost skirts with the Hindi-belt Hindutva stand on the same issue. 

Apart from Ahamed, IUML leaders like Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait and Banatwala have always been elected to the Lok Sabha from Kerala. According to the Constitution, any member of Parliament is entitled to join the Union Cabinet if the Prime Minister so desires. As part of the Parliamentary delegation, Ahamed had gone to foreign countries in the past. He even went to the United Nations representing India and sent by former Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee. There was no objection from CPM or BJP against all these. Nor they made accusation on account of India's security or secularism being damaged due to such exercises undertaken by Ahamed belonging to the "Muslim communal" or "Muslim terrorist" party IUML. Given this background, CPM's only objection on Ahamed's induction into the Cabinet is similar to the objections raised by Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharati against Sonia Gandhi becoming Prime Minister although they never objected her becoming either member of Parliament or Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha five years ago. 

The pro-CPM and pro-left intelligentsia also joined the issue to counter Ahamed's induction. One of the shocking criticisms came from Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer. What the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh done was wrong, Iyer said while addressing a press conference at Kozhicode on May 29 on behalf of the Jamaat-e-Islami sponsored Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity (FDCA). "I need not further explain this aspect. I've already appraised Dr. Manmohan Singh of the wrong move by personally writing to him, but without naming Mr. Ahamed", he said. "As the IUML is a community-based political party, no ruling party at the Centre has given berth for its members in the Central Cabinet so far", Iyer said detailing his stand.

However, Iyer, who was a member of the first EMS Namboodiripad-led Communist Government of Kerala in 1957, owes a lot of explanation on these very points. Did he write a similar letter to EMS Namboodiripad in 1967 when he inducted the first ever IUML members into the CPM-led Kerala Ministry then? What was the IUML's organizational structural difference between 1967 and 2004 to warrant Iyer's identification that IUML is a community-based political party now? Was it a political party of non-Muslims in 1967 for Iyer not to object for its induction into EMS Namboodiripad Government? Apparently, Iyer wanted everyone to forget the fact that unlike in Kerala, the citadel of united front politics and where both the Congress and CPM cannot occupy power without depending upon the respective UDF and LDF amalgamations led by them, the Congress was forced to head a United Front Cabinet at the Centre for the first time now. That is the precise political reason as to why the IUML, being a Congress-ally since long, could join the Union Cabinet now, and not because Iyer's thesis that all ruling parties at the Centre refused to give IUML Central Cabinet post so far as it is a community-based political party. If participation of people belonging to other communities in a political outfit is the sole criteria for its non-communal character, Iyer also has to say whether BJP, which has a lot of Christians in Kerala apart from the likes of Mukthar Abbas Naqvi, Arif Mohammed Khan and Najma Heptulla from the North in its fold, a secular party? Interestingly, the Jamaat-e-Islami leader and FDCA Secretary, T. K. Hussein, was also present at the same press conference although the Jamaat-e-Islami do not support Iyer's anti-Ahamed thesis scripted by CPM.

IUML ministers occupy power in Kerala since the 1967 Left Front Government of EMS Namboodiripad after taking oath of allegiance on the Indian Constitution. So was done by Ahamed to become a Union Minister now. There is nothing on record to show that either the fabric of secularism or the national security got weakened or threatened in Kerala on account of IUML Ministers occupying power, except for the unfounded and baseless allegations repeatedly orchestrated by the Hindutva forces. For example, in his first press conference held on July 3 at Bhopal, the newly inducted Home Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Babulal Gaur, while claiming that there was not a single Muslim terrorist hiding or operating from the State capital, explained: "We used to raise the terrorists' issue in the State Assembly while in the Opposition as the newspapers used to blow up the issue out of all proportions. In fact only about 1 or 2 per cent of all that appeared in newspapers about Muslim terrorists was found to be correct since not a single Muslim living here has anything to do with the terrorists." This open admittance is equally applicable to Kerala where the BJP, in its utter desperation of not winning a single seat either to the Assembly or Lok Sabha or winning a Panchayat so far, harps on baseless charges against Muslim terrorism and communalism only for the sake of echoing their Hindi-belt masters' voice.

CPM Opportunism And Israel
In order to woo Muslim voters especially in Malabar, the CPM always boast about its support to Palestine Liberation Organisation led by Yasser Arafat and against the US-backed Israeli occupation of Palestine territory. However, when CPM's opportunistic opposition to E. Ahamed's induction into the Union Cabinet was making waves in Kerala, the party received a set back when it was reported that two CPM veterans, former Chief Minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu and present Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, had visited Israel in July 2000 - the former on a "personal trip" and the latter heading a "business delegation".
According to a Sify News dispatch of June 9, both Basu and Chatterjee as VIP guests to Israel "enjoyed state hospitality while seeking business investments and joint partnerships with Israel in areas where the Jewish nation is seen to have gained expertise". Interestingly, it coincided with India's then Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh landing in Israel on an official trip to give a thrust to the relationship established by the Congress, the report said.

According to the Sify report, as Chief Minister of the Left-ruled West Bengal, Basu landed in Jerusalem on July 1, 2000. "He agreed for the trip after months of convincing by Israeli Ambassador to India Yehoyada Haim. He met Prime Minister Ehud Barak and top 'dove' Simon Peres among others. He was the first senior Left leader to visit the country, marking a departure from the Communists' stated policy of opposing the establishment of diplomatic ties. The relationship was established in 1992 by the P V Narasimha Rao Government.

Sify quoted a statement attributing to Basu as saying: "There is an overarching consensus among political parties in India about Israel." According to the report Basu said that he was always fascinated by Israel, which was the birthplace of all three big faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It also quoted the Israeli Ambassador's return compliment: "I have told him that a Kibbutz (agricultural commune without private ownership) is the only place where Communist principles are practiced in a true sense."

According to the report it was around the same time that a delegation led by Chatterjee, then the chairman of the West Bengal Development Corporation, came to Israel with his eyes firm on investments. "Israel was seen as a country, which could be lured into investing money and expertise in the fields of agriculture, IT and electronics. As the two leaders reached the country and the thrust on Palestine continued, the CPM came in for attack from the extreme Left outfits."

Ironically, the CPM-led Left has taken strong exceptions to President APJ Abdul Kalam's June 7 address to joint session of Parliament singling out Israel for a "mutually beneficial" relationship. Balancing Indian concerns on West Asia with Israel's position as a first world country, the President said: "Our relations with Israel which have developed on the basis of mutually beneficial cooperation are important but this in no way dilutes our principled support for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people."

However, in its strong reaction, CPM Politburo member Prakash Karat objected to the President mentioning of Israel. Observers feel that CPM's own metamorphosis in the post-Cold War era flies in the face of the present reactions, which are being treated as "tokenism".

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