Perhaps more significant than what the Church initially threatened to do is the studied silence of the Muslim segment

Barely a month ago, the Congress in Kerala was looking at the April 10 election with trepidation. The uproar over the Kasturirangan Committee recommendations on the protection of the Western Ghats was at its peak in the high ranges in the State, where settler farmers had been cultivators for generations.

Everybody, from local priests to the top echelons of the Catholic Church, was dropping dark hints at what awaited the Congress at the hustings. What Kerala witnessed in between was a virtual spectacle of the Church giving a good shake-up to the increasingly vulnerable Congress.

Sensing trouble, the Congress leadership went into overdrive and got the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to issue a draft notification downsizing the areas demarcated by the Kasturirangan panel as “ecologically sensitive” to pacify the angry farmers and the Church. But the Congress could not emerge unscathed from the conflict. It had to withdraw one of its most vocal MPs from the fray in Idukki, a constituency bound by the high ranges, which now has a nominee of the local High Range Protection Council, headed by none other than the Bishop, as its main opponent in the constituency.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has adopted him as its candidate, making the contest in Idukki, where elections were a walk in the park for the Congress in the past, one in which prestige and much else is at stake. However, even as it faces a tough electoral battle in the constituency and elsewhere in the State, things might just be looking up for the Congress on the minority front, though with tough caveats.

“The gap that separated us from the Left has narrowed with Pope Francis’ messages on the Church’s social engagement, but we cannot but support the UDF given several issues at stake here and the Left’s stand on questions of faith,” a spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar Church told The Hindu.

Perhaps much more politically significant than what the Church initially threatened to do and ultimately decided not to is the studied silence being maintained by the Muslim segment of the minority population of the State. While Christians as a group have not displayed undue worries about the possibility of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi taking over the reins of power in New Delhi, Muslims appear distinctly wary about the prospect. In all past elections, the various Muslim parties and powerful community groups have been quite vocal in registering their discontent with the Congress.

Many of them have openly allied with the Left, causing much consternation and, at times, electoral losses to the Congress.

However, this time round, the groups and parties, barring a few, appear to have chosen not to go for the Congress’s jugular.

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is the most important rallying force among various Muslim groups in the State. Well before the election season began, the party was hard at work to bring together the various interest groups within the community. The League, on which the Congress-led United Democratic Front’s fortunes depend in several constituencies in the north, appears to have succeeded in its mission, with the result that the normal Congress-baiters among the Muslim groups are now silent.

“Muslims as a community are concerned about Modi’s emergence. Any consolidation among them should be traced to this sense of unease,” says N.P. Chekkutty, Editor of Thejas daily, brought out by the Popular Front of India (PFI).

O. Abdurahiman, Editor of Madhayamam, organ of Jamaat-e-Islami, is inclined to see the community’s attitude as one of “wait and watch” since neither the Congress nor others appear capable of stopping the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

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