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A steadying force of Muslim League politics

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Panakkad Syed Mohammedali Shihab Thangal with Defence Minister A.K. Antony at a meeting got up to present the S.K. Pottekkat award to the IUML leader in Kozhikode on May 19, 2008.
Panakkad Syed Mohammedali Shihab Thangal with Defence Minister A.K. Antony at a meeting got up to present the S.K. Pottekkat award to the IUML leader in Kozhikode on May 19, 2008.

Girish Menon

Panakkad Shihab Thangal contributed to evolution of Kerala’s coalition politics

Thiruvananthapuram: Panakkad Syed Mohammedali Shihab Thangal, the Kerala State president of the Indian Union Muslim League and the spiritual leader of Muslims in the State, who passed away on Saturday night, was an epitome of humility and moderation, and a secularist to the core, who was revered and respected widely. The typical political leader, religious head and social worker may do well to take a few leaves out of his life, and his practice of politics.

Down to earth

Anyone coming away after meeting him could not but marvel at his eloquence which, however, involved as few words as possible. He was no rabid orator or clinical philosopher. He was down to earth in his preaching and political positions.

One notable mark of his political pragmatism was his steadfast position on the Babri Masjid demolition issue and the middle path through which he took his party during the difficult days post-demolition when the Muslim community went through a period of frenzied distress. Even as the entire Muslim community blamed the Congress and the Narasimha Rao government for the incident, Thangal continued to hitch the IUML to the Congress and the United Democratic Front, of which he was a founder. He propounded the concept of peace and communal harmony at a time when the entire community was under threat of being swept away by the frenzy of fundamentalism and extremism. If any evidence is required of the eventual success of his practical position, it is the fact that the IUML today is part of a national alliance, and a model for Muslims or parties claiming to represent the community in other parts of India.

The second notable aspect is his contribution to the evolution of coalition politics in Kerala. The essentially paradoxical but steadfast 30-year-old alliance with the Congress the party has had on an anti-Marxist plank, in fact, went a long way in consolidating the State’s bipolar politics. In the process, he prevented the emergence of a third force in Kerala such as the Bharatiya Janata Party. The IUML has in recent times seen considerable attrition in its traditional pockets of strength but he nevertheless led the party through the turbulent shoals of fringe elements of the community which have through their actions created a sticky and tricky situation for the larger Muslim community which is by and large peace-loving and nationalistic.

Not infallible

Thangal was ever-conscious that he was not infallible, as some of his ardent followers insisted he was. The one singular political mistake he committed was in taking the IUML out of the UDF for a six-month period in the 1990s. He realised his political folly and returned to the fold, never again to think of undermining the coalition. The second mistake happened when he and his party played up the aspirations of the community during the 2001-06 period, particularly when A K Antony was Chief Minister. No time was lost to correct this position.

The third notable aspect is his conviction that the Muslim community can progress only if it is part of the governing process. This is one point which Thangal always touched upon during the many meetings this writer had with him. The best part is that he showed how this could be done, ensuring that the IUML was never in the umbra of power. When out of power, the IUML was one of the most difficult political partners to manage.

Even while working for the uplift of his community, he never forgot that its progress was very dependent on the progress of other communities as well. That explains why he took the Muslim community forward on a backward class plank, despite being a religious minority.

Respected figure

This is what perhaps made him a respected figure among a wide section of people irrespective of caste, community, religion or creed.

Thangal’s death occasions an expression of concern over the future of Muslim politics in Kerala . For the community, the best tribute would be to try and consolidate his political thought and religious teachings and implement them faithfully.


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