The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the Congress have called off their bilateral discussion scheduled on Tuesday to sort out certain issues, in view of the strained relations between the two partners.

The bilateral talks have several items on the agenda, including the bifurcation of Malappuram district and the row over lowering the marriage age of Muslim girls to 16 years. Considering the inexplicable strain that the relations between the two parties have come under in the last couple of days, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has taken the initiative to defer the exercise, which, he has felt, would reach nowhere in the current situation.

The scheduled bilateral talks between the Congress and the Kerala Congress(M) on some residual issues troubling their ties have also been put off.

Meanwhile, the IUML leadership appears to have taken advantage of the situation by projecting a tough stand, with party secretary E.T. Mohammed Basheer stating that the situation is not conducive for talks. The IUML has positioned itself behind Mr. Chandy in the ongoing factional fight in the Congress and does not seem to conceal its displeasure at the remarks purported to have been made by Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Ramesh Chennithala the other day about his party’s ties with its long-standing ally. The IUML leadership has raised the matter before the Congress high command, besides promising to formulate its position at its July 4 State secretariat meeting.

In the meantime, the sparring match between IUML and Congress leaders continues, with IUML State general secretary K.P.A. Majeed stating that his party is no pushover and cannot be isolated in Kerala politics. “We will take a final decision at our July 4 meeting,” he says.

Power Minister and Congress leader Aryadan Mohammed, a well-known opponent of the IUML, has rubbed salt on the injury by stating that the IUML and the Congress, being different political entities, are united only on a minimum common programme as enlisted in the ruling front’s manifesto.

The IUML-Congress tiff appears to have its impact in the positioning of the two factions in the Congress. Mr. Chennithala has taken a cautious stand as the row gathers momentum, trying to assuage the ruffled IUML leadership through informal talks and by publically stating that the IUML is an inseparable ally of the Congress. But his faction leaders drop sufficient hints at its opposition to several of the IUML demands, including the bifurcation of Malappuram district and the possibility of the party seeking more Parliament seats.

Former KPCC president K. Muraleedharan’s statement that Mr. Chennithala’s Kozhikode remarks are only a reflection of the Congress worker’s sentiments should be viewed in this context.