The political gang war set off by the gold smuggling scandal has had a most unfortunate victim: the Holy Quran.
While the UDF, led by the Congress and the Muslim League, and the BJP alleged that the Quran was used as a cover to smuggle gold, the man at the centre of the controversy, higher education minister K T Jaleel, and the CPM have attempted to give the impression that their opponents were against the holy book itself.
“Is the Quran banned in the country,” Jaleel had asked in July, right after it was revealed he had facilitated the transport of Quran bundles from the UAE Consulate to Malappuram.
The CPM began to employ Quran as a political weapon after Jaleel's secretive visit to the Enforcement Directorate and the mayhem the opposition unleashed on the streets demanding the minister's ouster. The Quran, the party knew, was infinitely more effective than water cannons, lathis and tear gas shells.
“The BJP's dislike of the Quran is known. But why is the Muslim League and the Congress allergic to the Quran,” CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asked. “The Muslim League is adding fuel to the BJP's anti-Quran riots,” Kodiyeri added.
Ethical or not, the strategy seemed to produce an unintended benefit: a secular brotherhood, though temporary. Even the BJP leaders and spokespersons were found too eager to swear they had nothing against the Quran.
Muslim and Quran scholars Onmanorama talked to in this context, however, were unanimously concerned that the holy book had been dragged into the controversy. There was also a feeling that the controversy could be used to vilify the image of the Muslim community in Kerala.
Ashraf Kadakkal, professor of Islamic history at Kerala University, said the controversy could create a wrong impression outside Kerala. "When a report of a Kerala minister distributing the Quran across the state using government machinery makes national headlines, the message that goes out is that the government was actively involved in the propagation of a particular religion," Kadakkal said.
The historian's point was that at a time when there is a tendency to fan Islamophobia, such information could be dynamite in the hands of bigots.
Wayanad as a warning
Kadakkal fears that it could also be held up as an example of what the right wing calls the “unholy Jihadi-Left alliance”.
“They are waiting to pounce on anything that even remotely suggests the Left's dalliance with Muslim extremist forces. Outside Kerala, they would emphasise that a minister himself was importing Quran from a Muslim country and going about distributing it. These people are desperate to undermine Kerala's secular image," Kadakkal said, and added: "We know how the Muslim League flags seen during Rahul Gandhi's Wayanad Lok Sabha campaign in 2019 were shown as Pakistani flags by certain media outlets in North India."
Yet, he does not condone the CPM for using the Quran as a political counter strategy. “The party is also attempting to misuse Islamic symbols,” Kadakkal said.
Termite in Marxian firmament
Hameed Chennamangalur, social critic and a staunch critic of religious fundamentalism, is more worried about what he terms the CPM's abandonment of progressive ideals.
He said it was a minister handpicked by the CPM who had first brought Quran into the picture. "It was Jaleel's question that started it all. It was he who first asked the Congress and the League whether they were of the opinion that Quran could not be imported. It was his way of rendering them speechless. Soon enough, the CPM also adopted the tactic," Chennamangalur said.
Religious scholar and preacher Abdusamad Pokkottur also said it was Jaleel who first used the Quran with a political motive. "No self-respecting Muslim can allow the Quran to be used to save an individual from a controversy," Pokkottur said.
Chennamangalur said that by using Quran as a shield to fend off a political crisis, the CPM was in effect spurning what they had done till now.
When the Shah Bano verdict asking a Muslim male to provide maintenance for the woman he had divorced was delivered in 1985, Chennamangalur said, not a single party, including the Muslim League, supported it. "It was the CPM alone that stood for gender justice in the country then," he said.
Later in 1986, the CPM alone had firmly said no when Christian religious leaders wanted P A Warrier's appreciation of Nikos Kazantzakis' 'Last Temptation of Christ' taken out of the syllabus for Kerala University BA students.
"More recently in 2018, the CPM had demonstrated its ideological conviction to unapologetically and unconditionally welcome the Sabarimala verdict allowing the entry of women into the hill shrine," Chennamangalur said.
According to him, a party with Marxist and secular values should never have used a Holy book to do a political escape act.
P Mujiburahman, the assistant emir of Jamaat-E-Islami, was not willing to comment on the issue except to say that the holy book would not have been dragged into the issue had it been imported in a transparent manner.
“The Quran is not something that has to be brought in secretly like contraband gold,” he said.