If there is a political party in India, that takes a break to relax due to the ban imposed on the Popular Front of India (PFI), it would be none other than Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) of Kerala. As far as the League is concerned, the ban on PFI is an immediate suspension of a problem that the party had been facing over a couple of decades.
PFI’s aggressive assertion of Muslim identity has been diametrically opposite to the moderatism of the League, which creating an image that the IUML is ‘not good enough’ to protect Muslims from the threat of violence posed by the RSS. It is a reality that the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political outfit of PFI, which is a cadre party, could attract a section of the youth who had been IUML loyalists otherwise.
“It is a fact that the leadership of IUML was really worried about the growing influence of SDPI/PFI among the Muslim youth. League was worried about PFI’s self-acclaimed poster as the ‘saviours of the community’,” Dr Ashraf Kadakkal, a scholar of Islamic history at the University of Kerala told The Federal.
According to KT Jaleel MLA, who broke away from the League and joined LDF, it is not only the communal agenda set by PFI that put IUML in trouble. “Their concern for peace and secularism is not the only reason for considering PFI as its political enemy. SDPI was very much capable of shaking their vote base at least in a few constituencies. Though SDPI is not strong enough to win a seat, it is capable of disturbing the League in some places by reducing the margin of a winning IUML candidate,” Jaleel told The Federal, adding that the League often had ‘secret diplomatic ties’ with SDPI in many elections.
IUML has often faced allegations of having secret ties with SDPI and PFI, especially during the time of election. A CCTV footage of IUML leader E T Mohammad Basheer meeting SDPI leaders during the parliamentary elections in 2019 created heated controversy in Kerala. The fight was tougher in Ponnani constituency where ET Mohammad Basheer contested and League leadership allegedly sought the support of SDPI.
In local body elections, even CPI-M is accused of aligning with SDPI at the ward/panchayat level. In the 2020 local self-government polls, SDPI managed to win 75 wards (out of the 15,962 wards) which is only 0.004 per cent of the total vote share. It is apparently clear that SDPI has a long way to go in the electoral politics which is going to be tougher in the changed circumstances.
IUML leaders dismiss the chances of a polarisation in favour of SDPI in the context of the ban on PFI. “SDPI’s presence in the electoral politics is negligible. They try to attract the youngsters to the path of extremism by raising the campaign that RSS and other Parivar groups have to be dealt with the same coin. IUML completely reject such ideas and believe that secularism is the only fitting reply to any kind of extremism,” Abdul Rahman Randathani, the State Secretary of IUML told The Federal.
Randathani says that SDPI uses every opportunity to display its political rivalry to IUML. The 2019 Lok Sabha election was one such instance, according to him. “SDPI fielded its national general secretary (Abdul Majeed Faizy) against P K Kunjalikkutty in Malappuram constituency. They did it only with an intention to create a split in the League’s vote base,” he said. However, in Malappuram, where Kunjalikkutty emerged victorious by more than 2.60 lakh votes, Faizy could gather only 19,095 votes in spite of the vigorous campaign that it was the only party capable of protecting the minority rights.
IUML heading for a split?
Will there be a split in the IUML after which one faction would align with the Left Democratic Front (LDF)? This is a strong speculation that has been doing the rounds in Kerala for quite a while. According to internal sources, the faction lead by P K Kunjalikkutty is actively considering the scope of being part of LDF. The E K Sunni faction. the prominent religious section in Kerala which is the backbone of IUML. has been apparently soft on the LDF government. E K Sunni faction. which is also known as Samastha, represents a large majority of Muslims in Malabar. The strong stand taken by the LDF government against the CAA is one of the reasons for this new-found love between the conventional religious section and the CPI-M.
Jifri Thangal, the leader of Samastha, openly praised Pinarayi Vijayan for taking such a bold position. CPI-M, on the other side, changed its past strategy of keeping away from religious organisations and started holding conversations with organisations like Samastha, by-passing IUML. “First time in the history of the party (CPI-M), the chief minister hosted Iftar in which religious scholars of all sections were invited,” says K T Jaleel referring to the Iftar held last year.
However, independent observers like Dr Ashraf Kadakkal do not think it’s good for Kerala in the long run. “A split in IUML will weaken UDF which will not be good for Kerala in future. This will only lead to the emergence of NDA. A section of IUML joining with LDF will strengthen the right-wing narrative that CPI-M/LDF is feeding Muslim fundamentalism – no matter whether this interpretation is right or wrong. This may eventually lead to communal polarisation in Kerala. Hence, IUML’s existence as a moderate force having strong secular credentials is necessary for Kerala,” says Dr Kadakkal.