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Published in the 16-28 Feb 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

CPM to outsmart IUML in Malappuram

By AP Muhammed Afsal

The Milli Gazette Online

Malappuram, long considered to be the strong bastion of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), is all set for the Kerala state conference of Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) for the first time. Armed with an electoral victory in Manjery in the last Lok Sabha elections and an eye on IUML's declining popular support, CPM has nothing to lose here. With streets decorated with big cut-outs of Yasser Arafat, and seminars focusing on minority issues, huge efforts are underway to make the February 19-21 conference a success in this Muslim area.

Till recently the base of “Adavunayam” (secret electoral understanding cutting across the alliance line, mainly between CPM and IUML) Malappuram is witnessing an inch-by-inch fight. Slowly coming to terms with the loss in Manjery, IUML too has started a desperate do-or-die campaign, with panchayat-level conferences scheduled in February and a district conference in April. One of the popular topics of the local IUML seminars was new faces of challenges. 

It has been blow hot, blow cold relationship for Kerala Muslims with CPM, though the party has considerable chunk of rank and file from the community. Left’s tirade against “god” and “god-fearing” in its early days and some policies intended to abolish Arabic learning from schools were the incidents which hurt the sentiments of the community. Keen on international developments, Kerala Muslims had given a thought to the plight of Afghan Muslims due to the invasion of the erstwhile communist Soviet Union. Of course, an average Muslim could have been forgiven for beleiving that the CPM's recent opposition to E Ahamed as a union minister was an anti-Muslim act. CPM's experiment in Nadapuaram, a predominantly Muslim area in Kozhikode, with communism through communalism is also worth mentioning here. An aberrant political strategy of the late CPM leader A Kanaran, instigating tenant thiyyas into a class war against errant Muslim landlords, turned out to be a full-scale communal campaign between the two OBC groups. The CPM has never criticised Kanaran, a man with explicit Islamophobia, nor did it disown his strategy. Still now, even in Malappuram, party has put up his cutouts. 

At the same time, CPM's credential as secular party cannot be undermined in a larger perspective. It is the only party which has been relentlessly opposing the BJP in Kerala. Congress and even IUML have a history of making tacit understanding with the BJP. On the other hand, despite the fact that the IUML and BJP are communal forces and hence two sides of the same coin, CPM has continued to help win IUML in Manjeswaram, a constituency bordering Karnataka where BJP has huge vote share, in assembly elections, without hoping any quid pro quo. It was this move by the CPM which prevented the BJP from entering Kerala assembly to date. 

Long before the CPM reaching its latest conclusion on IUML, and the latter making its presence felt in Kerala politics and becoming an important component which can dictate terms in the Congress-led UDF, they had been strange bedfellows in those old days. Among the reasons which made it possible was the injustice meted out to IUML as an ally of the Congress. CPM’s all time intellectual, the late EMS Namboodiripadu, had to burn a lot of midnight oil to interpret his party's frequently changing stand on the 'communal' party. The formation of Malappuram district itself was a byproduct of that marriage of convenience. Forming a district with a majority of Muslims had drawn flak from different quarters and the attack on the district is still continuing through selective targeting and hype as 'mini-Pakistan in Kerala'.

If the nature of attacks by the CPM and counter-attacks by IUML are anything to go by, there is no scope for such a nostalgic moment, with both groups painting each other with communal brush, denying the role they played in the creation of secular Kerala. The ultimate result may be something unhealthy, given the national scenario of joining secular parties together against Hindutva forces, though Kerala politics remains insulated from the national scene on various counts.
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