The Quran has emerged as a hot debating point in Kerala. It was KT Jaleel, the minister who is in the dock for bypassing protocols while accepting food kits and religious texts from the United Arab Emirates Consulate in Kerala, who first resorted to using the Quran as a shield. Now, with the minister facing the heat to resign as an investigation is on to ascertain the presence of contraband in the consignment, the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders have replicated the tactic in unison.
No less than Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been at the vanguard of using the argument as he demanded to know why “even the Indian Union Muslim League” would want to attack Jaleel over the issue — a remark clearly laced with communal overtones. If anyone thought it was a slip of the tongue, Communist Party of India (Marxist) State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s article in party mouthpiece Deshabhimani, where he elaborated on the argument dubbing the protests by the Opposition as an ‘anti-Quran’ agitation, proved it is a strategy.
The CPI(M) has often played the minority card in Kerala with success. It was only recently that Balakrishnan attacked Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala dubbing him a ‘Sarsanghchalak’ in Congress. Apart from the minority angle, it was the CPI(M)’s idea of changing the political discourse, with the CPI(M)-led Let Democratic Front (LDF) government increasingly coming under pressure in the aftermath of the gold-smuggling scam. However, that move boomeranged when it was revealed that Politburo member S Ramachandran Pillai was a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ‘Shikshak’ in his youth before he joined the communist party.
With the synchronised move to dub protests against Jaleel as an affront to Quran and, by extension, against Muslims, the CPI(M) has once again invoked its time-tested strategy. What they seem to be not have realised is the effect such a short-sighted tactic would have on Kerala’s polity, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bound to reap the dividend of any majority consolidation in response to it.
In fact, post the CPI(M)’s mishandling of the Sabarimala verdict, the BJP has managed to engineer cracks even in the Left’s rock-solid constituency of Ezhavas. The Nairs have by and large made its preference for the BJP amply clear of late, as reflected in BJP’s increasing vote shares in the last decade. To offset the loss of its Hindu vote base, the CPI(M) had been attempting to lure sections of the minority vote-bank of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
After initially being at the receiving end of a coalition of caste and communal forces that pulled down the first communist government in 1959, it was EMS Namboodiripad who took the initiative to form a seven-party rainbow coalition in the 1967 assembly election, and allocate Cabinet portfolios to the IUML, which was till then kept away from the power structure. In 1969, EMS also carved out the Muslim-majority Malappuram district to appease the IUML, despite opposition from widely-respected figures such as ‘Kerala Gandhi’ K Kelappan against the move on account of its communal undertones.
Come 1987, however, the CPI(M) adopted the opposite strategy — consolidation of majority votes — after being out of power for nearly two decades, but for a brief interregnum. EMS cleverly couched it as a ‘principle-based politics’ to give it an ideological spin, and it was preceded by the ouster of the party’s rising star MV Raghavan, ostensibly for advocating alliances with the IUML and the Kerala Congress (a party that predominantly caters to the Christian community in central Kerala). It was also followed by the Shah Bano verdict and the Congress’ lame response to it, which rendered the atmosphere in favour of the Left for majority consolidation. Within five years the CPI(M) would do a volte-face.
In the 1990s and 2000s, a desperate CPI(M) entered into tactical electoral understandings with parties and leaders with extreme ideological moorings, including the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP’s) Abdul Nazar Mahdani. However, none of these previous dalliances have been as brazen or blatantly communal in its vocabulary as the present instance.
If the CPI(M) feels such a strategy could help them breach the IUML fortress of Malappuram, it would also conversely aid the rise of the BJP, whose cadre have been working tirelessly on the ground to woo voters despite the odds being stacked against them.
It is one thing to shield Jaleel but, to use the Quran as a shield in the face of serious allegations will only result in communalising the issue, and making the BJP’s job easier in further polarising the electorate in Kerala.Anand Kochukudy is a political commentator. Views are personal.