Is CPM's bid to raise anti-CAA stir pitch flirting with Islamophobia?

Pinarayi says Kerala will turn its back on CAB but is it possible?

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) is a good enough excuse for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to go out of its way to woo the Muslim community.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's bold and combative response to the CAA has given the party the initial momentum. And then, to take the political project forward, the CPM has adopted a delicate tactical line, a ploy to keep the Hindu community satisfied while it seeks to offer a bait to Muslims.

The CPM has made extreme Muslim outfits as much its enemy as the Sangh Parivar.

All said, the CPM had begun well.

The manner in which Pinarayi Vijayan had stood up to the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine, in the CPM's assessment, had pleased the Muslim community.

The large participation of Muslims in the 'great human chain' the CPM had organised on Republic Day was seen as evidence of this. So, according to the CPM, this "distinct tilt" within the community towards the Left was a natural development, the result of some daring moves by the CM.

The CPM state committee now wants its cadres to build on this and ensure greater Muslim participation for the various resistance measures it had lined up on March 23 to mark the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh.

CPM's win-win strategy

Will CPM attempt to monopolise anti-CAA agitation slip into Islamophobia?
Protest against Citizenship (Amendment) Act in New Delhi. File photo

Though it had quite unequivocally rejected the CPM's offer, the IUML has once again been asked to be part of a joint struggle. At first wince, this can been seen as quite out of character as the CPM had consistently branded the IUML as communal.

The League was considered such a scourge by the CPM that Pinarayi Vijayan was censured in 2000 for so much as hinting at a tie up with it.

It was only last year that CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan called the IUML a "dead horse". Much earlier, stalwarts like M V Raghavan were punished with expulsion for wanting to bring IUML into the Left fold.

But the CPM knows that this eagerness to stand alongside the League would not be seen as hypocrisy in a world altered by the CAA.

This will only be seen as a gesture of solidarity in a moment of need, at a time when the Muslim community has felt threatened like never before.

And if the League keeps rejecting the offer, it becomes all the more better.

"This will only show how hard Pinarayi is trying to bring about unity for a Muslim cause. His image as a unifier will be fortified," a top CPM leader said.

No wonder, after League leader M K Muneer turned down his offer for joint struggle inside the Assembly early this month, Pinarayi said with glee: "We will keep asking."

Authoritarian urges

Will CPM attempt to monopolise anti-CAA agitation slip into Islamophobia?
IUML workers during an election campaign. File photo

What could turn problematic for the CPM are its perceived moves to monopolise the anti-CAA agitation. The police had cracked down on hugely popular anti-CAA protests organised by 'mahallu' or mosque committees in various parts of Kerala.

Down south in the capital, the police has asked demonstrators who had been for over a fortnight staging a sit-in in front of the Secretariat in solidarity with the Shaheen Bagh women in Delhi to clear out.

The Muslim community is also disappointed that no prompt action was taken against BJP workers who had warned of Gujarat-model reprisals during a pro-CAA rally taken out through Kuttiyadi in Kozhikode.

The CM justified the arrests of over 200 people who took part in the Angamaly 'mahallu' committee saying the meeting was infiltrated by Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) activists. In fact, Pinarayi had attributed all arrests related to anti-CAA protests to "SDPI infiltration".

"If this is so, show us one SDPI member who had been arrested," SDPI general secretary P Abdul Hameed said.

Omnipotent demon

This demonisation of what has been termed "extreme Muslim outfits", notably Jamaat-e-Islami and SDPI, is the fine balance the CPM is attempting to strike. The party is obviously trying to pre-empt any charge of Muslim appeasement that could possibly be hurled at them by the Sangh Parivar.

"The CPM does not have the will to take on the Sangh Parivar forces on a purely secular level. They can do this only by propping up imaginary Muslim enemies," Jamaat-e-Islami Hind state secretary V T Abdulla Koya Thangal said.

"The CPM has no idea who their real enemies are. They are ideologically messed up," he said.

Thangal, too, wanted the government to produce proof of at least one of its members caught in anti-national or terrorist activities. "They have the police at their command. They just cannot utter anything on a whim. Back it with proof," Thangal said.

The CPM's biggest charge against Alan Shuhaib and Thaha Fazal was not that they were Maoists but that they were Jamaat-e-Islami members.

"It is wrong to blame Muslim outfits for the CPM's ideological weakness," said Ashraf Kadakkal, a noted Muslim scholar who teaches Islamic History at Kerala University.

"The party cannot mask its inability to prevent its cadres from straying into Maoism by accusing a religious community. It is an insult," he said.

Pat and a whack

Muslim scholar and social critic Hameed Chennamangalur also, though he considers both Jamaat and SDPI to be communal, sees a contradiction in the CPM stand.

"If the CPM cannot stand outfits that are hell bent on creating a communal divide, how can it have in its fold a party like the Indian National League (INL) that broke away from the IUML saying it was not extreme enough," he said.

Despite the inconsistencies and high-handedness, there are signs that the Muslim community has found a new hero in Pinarayi Vijayan.

Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama's Jifri Muthukkoya Thangal, a strong IUML supporter, was recently heard praising Pinarayi's leadership.

Chennamangalur said this should not be taken at face value. "When Pinarayi stood strongly for women's entry into Sabarimala, this very same Jifri Thangal told Pinarayi not to dare ask for women's entry into Muslim mosques. Pinarayi did not utter a word. Perhaps thata is why Jifri Thangal was so enthusiastic about Pinarayi," Chennamangalur said.

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