Despite IUML sway, other players also have takers
Muslim votes of Malabar, particularly of Malappuram, have been a subject of discussion for long.
Almost all political parties active here, except perhaps the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have laid claim to Muslim votes at different times.
The political history of the region underscores the fact that no political party can make a permanent claim over the Muslim votes, which over the time have shown shifts of allegiance and strands of independent thinking.
True, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) has held considerable influence on the Muslim voters for the past several years but the setbacks the party suffered in the first decade of this millennium indicate that Muslim votes are not a monolithic bloc on which a party can have a permanent sway.
The IUML says it has learned its lessons from the 2004 Manjeri debacle and the 2006 Kuttippuram- Mankada fiascos.
The historic defeats of the IUML in Manjeri and Kuttippuram in these two elections opened the party’s eyes and, ever since, it has never claimed any total control over the Muslim votes.
This realisation had made the IUML put up its most valiant fight ever in a Parliament election in 2009. In the 2011 Assembly elections too, the IUML for the first time worked like a political party of cadres taking up the election work seriously and systematically.
The party seems to have maintained the tempo displaying early preparedness for the April 10 elections to the 16th Lok Sabha. The earnestness with which IUML candidates now approach voters in Ponnani and Malappuram show that the party is not taking the Muslim voters for granted.
The claim of the CPI(M) about the substantive outcomes of its efforts to reach out to the vast majority of Muslim votes, made on different occasions over the past decade, did not last beyond the historic triumphs it scripted in Manjeri (2004), Mankada, Tirur, Perinthalmanna, and Kuttippuram (2006).
The Indian National League (INL), which had stayed with the Left Democratic Front (LDF) ever since its birth in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition, had almost walked out of the alliance recently, disappointed at the CPI(M) not accepting its long-pending plea for a berth in the Opposition alliance.
It has, however, been brought around on the assurance that its demand will be taken up after the elections. Although the fight this time will largely be between the LDF and the UDF, the presence of several players, including the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and the Welfare Party of India, makes the electoral battle worth watching.
The many groups and factions that function based on faith and socio-political allegiance also make the election scene worth a close look.
The Sunni faction led by Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobacker Musliar, for example, has tilted and shifted its political allegiance several times in the past. The faction had played a significant role in the IUML’s 2004 Manjeri rout.
‘We will help whoever helps us’ is the slogan that the faction has put forward often in the past.
The IUML in recent years has been extremely cautious not to antagonise the Kanthapuram faction, in spite of negative pressures from the EK Sunni faction known as the Chelari Samastha group.
The Samastha Sunni faction, on the other hand, has always stood with the IUML. Of late, it has been showing strong displeasure about what it sees as the IUML leadership’s overtures towards the Kanthapuram faction.
The third Sunni group led by Najeeb Moulavi has all along shown restraint in matters electoral.
So is the case with the three Salafi or Mujahid factions. All of them are quite conversant with the IUML politics but none makes any commitment of voting in public.
However, the Jamaat-e-Islami has been quite vocal in Malabar. Its political wing, the Welfare Party of India, has a candidate in Malappuram against E. Ahamed but not in Ponnani against E.T. Mohammed Basheer.
Though loud in articulation at times, the Jamaat-e-Islami is yet to prove that it has a considerable share of votes.
The SDPI, still in infancy, appears poised to influence the Muslim votes in the years to come. The party, with candidates in Malappuram and Ponnani, is offering to lead an alternative to the conventional Left-Right politics with which a vast majority of Muslim voters are familiar with.
“Very soon we will be spearheading a powerful front by achieving Dalit-Muslim unity,” says SDPI leader Nasaruddin Elamaram, who takes on Mr. Ahamed in Malappuram.
The response SDPI and Welfare Party meetings and conventions evoke on the campaign front indicates that Muslims are not a monolithic vote bank.
The criticisms and demands the SDPI raise in its electioneering appear sensible, and augur ill for a party such as the IUML.
Organisations such as the Muslim Educational Society (MES) and the Muslim Service Society (MSS) can hardly influence the Muslim votes despite their presence and visibility in the community horizon.