A political coelacanth at the crossroads

The Indian Union Muslim League is losing the ground beneath its feet and fringe elements like the Social Democratic Party of India are eating into it’s clout in Kerala.

Published: 18th December 2021 12:09 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th December 2021 09:08 AM   |  A+A-


Image of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) supporters used for representational purpose. (File Photo | A Sanesh, EPS)

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is the coelacanth in Indian politics, a living fossil that has survived the sea changes in the political ecosystem. It lives in the deep south unaffected by the temper and tempest on the surface of the sea. But the time has come for it to face the existential threats and suicidal tendencies. It is losing the ground beneath its feet and fringe elements like the Social Democratic Party of India are eating into the IUML’s clout in Kerala. On the other side, the CPM is making inroads into a once-solid Muslim League vote bank in Malabar. The carefully choreographed secular pretensions of the party are fast imploding due to the words and deeds of its leadership.

A recently held Waqf protection rally in Kozhikode exposed the antediluvian mindset of its leaders. One of its state secretaries called the state PWD minister P A Mohammed Riyas a ‘fornicator’ as he is married to the chief minister’s daughter under the Special Marriage Act. The League leader bluntly called their relationship ‘adultery’ as their marriage is not sanctioned by Islamic law. Another leader

K M Shaji stated that those who were leaving the party are distancing themselves from Islam itself. He further candidly said that for the IUML, religion matters more than the livelihood of the common man. These utterances clearly reveal the motivating force of the party is not the Indian Constitution. The cat has jumped out of the IUML’s bag. 

The party has been the most powerful communal organisation in Kerala. After the partition of the country, the erstwhile All-India Muslim League functionaries reorganised the League under a fresh nomenclature and agenda. The party held the chief minister’s august post for 53 days in Kerala and it still has a presence in Parliament from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Also, the IUML belongs to the exclusive club of parties always represented in Parliament since its constitution. The party has a parallel power structure as it holds sway over mosques, madrasas, cooperatives, money from the Gulf, spiritual leaders and the rich business class.

The present dilemma before the IUML is the way forward—secularisation or communalisation of the party agenda. The party at its core is communal—a welfare communalist organisation in professor Bipan Chandra’s terminology. Communal sentiments form the roots of the IUML and the party is trying to capitalise on it. The utterances at the Waqf protection rally have been aimed at this tactic. But such acts demolish the party’s secular pretensions.

The party can neither communalise nor secularise its agenda in the present political scenario. This predicament poses an existential threat to the IUML. Secularisation of the agenda would make it lose its communal vote bank to the SDPI while communalisation would isolate it from the mainstream of Kerala politics. 

The opposition to gender-neutral uniforms in Kerala government-run schools further exposed the mindset of the party. The Muslim Students Federation, the students’ wing of the IUML, fiercely opposed the move. Fathima Thahiliya, a prominent leader of the MSF, came out heavily against the move. She demanded that the agenda should be equal opportunity and gender justice and not uniformity. She described it as Communist conspiracy against Islamic faith. It’s not astonishing that the Jamaat-e-Islami, the hardcore Islamist organisation, usually distanced from the IUML, is on the same page as the party over this issue.

The party is currently ideologically adrift. The aims and objectives of the IUML as per its constitution inter alia are: to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy and to uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. The recent public utterances of its leaders and ultra-orthodox religiosity of the party have gone against the proclaimed manifesto of the IUML. The party has furthermore shrunk into the Malabar region of Kerala. Once the party even had a Cabinet berth in West Bengal—K A Hassanussaman was a minister in the Ajoy Mukherjee government in the 1970s.

The party is facing an acute leadership vacuum too as it has no leader of the stature of Muhammad Ismail, popularly known as Quaid-e-Millat among the League rank and file, or C H Muhammed Koya. The party, dominated by the business class, cannot survive long without political power. Hence, the coelacanth’s survival in the changing socio-political ecology is an important question that matters not only for the party itself, but Kerala politics and society at large.

(Views are personal)

Faisal C K
Freelance columnist.


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