Kerala’s Muslim League battles factional feuds, growth of rival parties

Indian Union Muslim League's inability to rein in leaders such as KNA Khader and KM Shaji reflects on the party's weakness, say insiders

Muslim League Kerala
The IUML is worried about the growing insecurity among Muslims in India which is helping parties like SDPI to expand

It is a hard battle for the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala to exist and survive without power for two consecutive terms. The party insiders The Federal spoke  to unanimously agreed on this. The internal conflicts within the party that the leadership used to manage to cover up in the past, now come out in public, giving a clear warning about the deep existential crisis that the party is facing.

The latest in this series of conflicts is KNA Khader’s participation in a cultural programme organised by the RSS. Khader, former MLA and the Malappuram district secretary of IUML, embarrassed the party by participating in the cultural event organised by Kesari, the mouthpiece of RSS in Kozhikkode.

Also read: Kerala Christians’ beef with Muslims proof of BJP’s divide-and-rule policy

Khader, who was felicitated by J Nandakumar, the leader of RSS at the function, justified his action by saying that it was not a political but a cultural programme. However, the IUML leadership, except MK Muneer, MLA, is yet to make a statement against Khader’s participation in the programme despite repeated queries from the media as well as anger expressed by IUML followers on social media.

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Embarrassing comments

This is not the only incident which has put the party leadership in a fix. A recent remark of KM Shaji, president of Youth League and secretariat member of the IUML, about M  Yusuf Ali, a UAE-based Indian business man and MD of the Lulu Group, also embarrassed the party. He alleged that Yusuf Ali had been trying to please Prime Minister Narendra Modi for promoting his business ventures in Uttar Pradesh. He also said that such businessmen cannot purchase the Lleague with money. He attacked Yusuf Ali for the latter’s criticism of the UDF for boycotting the Loka Kerala Sabah, the recently held conference of representatives of Malayali expats.

IUML leaders, including state president Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal and PK Kunjalikkutty, unanimously rejected Shaji’s criticism by saying that Yusuf Ali was a great philanthropist and good businessman loved by everyone. Though the leadership realises that antagonising a businessman of Yusuf Ali’s stature will prove costly for the IUML, it is unable to take any disciplinary action against Shaji. In Khader’s case, too, the leadership is opting to go silent rather than publicly denounce his ‘love for RSS’.

Growth of rival parties

“The party is facing the deepest crisis it has ever faced. Being out of power for a decade is too difficult for the party to handle. This situation has pushed ordinary party cadre into disappointment,” a senior leader and former MLA of IUML told The Federal. The growth of rival organisations such as the SDPI and the Welfare Party has made the situation worse, according to many leaders of IUML.

Many IUML leaders expressed concern over the growth of SDPI within the community. “SDPI’s extremism is unacceptable to us. Muslim League has always been a secular and moderate party. We believe only in democratic dialogue; IUML always keeps away from emotionally charged responses,” Muneer told The Federal.

At the same time, the party is worried about the growing insecurity among the Muslims in India which is helping parties like SDPI to expand. According to party insiders, the ordinary members and followers of the party have been influenced by the SDPI for the latter’s aggressive stance. The party workers, who are even otherwise disillusioned by the emphatic victory of LDF for the second term, are no longer impressed by the moderate line of the party, especially in the context of attacks against Muslims in other states.

“The charisma of Panakkadu family is a story of the past. The party is no more able to keep the mass under the single and powerful leadership of the Panakkadu family. There are multiple power centres within the party,” said KT Jaleel MLA of the LDF, who had started his political career with the IUML.

Panakkadu family’s influence waning

The Panakkadu Thangal family has been the power centre of the party since its inception in Kerala. The power is transferred from generation-to-generation within the Thangal family and this has been an unchallenged practice. Mohammadali Shihab Thangal of the Panakkadu family had been the president of IUML for 34 years. He ‘inherited’ the power from his father Pookkoya Thangal in 1975 when he passed away and continued to be in the position till his death in 2009. His younger brother Hyder Ali Shihab Thangal took over the position and served the term till his death in March 2022. He is succeeded by another member of the family, Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal, who is currently serving the term.

Also read: IUML Kerala Chief Panakkad Sayed Hyderali Shihab Thangal no more

“Though the Thangal family is believed to be the last word in the party, there are multiple power centres within the party. Factional feuds and infighting played a big role in weakening the party,” a senior leader from Malappuram told The Federal. He feels that the party leader should self-reflect rather than blaming the SDPI. According to him, SDPI is filling the vacuum left by IUML within the community. “The party leadership stood for the rich and powerful, but failed to address the problems of ordinary Muslims. SDPI is capturing this space,” he said.

Cut off from people

“IUML raises funds from rich businessmen, including Yusuf Ali. The practice of going to the people with a political campaign and raising funds from the masses has stopped long back. They realised this only in the sixth year of being in the opposition. They could raise only Rs 11.5 crore in the fund-raising campaign conducted recently. This is an amount that DYFI could collect within a day or two,” said KT Jaleel, a critic of the IUML.

Jaleel also blamed the League leadership for its inability to take disciplinary action against Shaji, Khader and many others who are alleged to be overtly corrupt. “The party cannot openly condemn those who are corrupt because the money thus being raised was not utilised for their personal benefit,” said Jaleel. He was referring to the criminal charges faced by Shaji, who has been booked by the ED for alleged money laundering, and MC Kamaruddeen, the former MLA from Mancheswaram who was arrested for financial fraud.

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