Kottayam: Veteran Congress leader and ace parliamentarian Aryadan Muhammed was a staunch secularist who considered ally Indian Union Muslim League a communal party, said former state Congress president Mullappally Ramachandran.
He kept the Congress flag flying in Malappuram, a district dominated by League, said leaders who grew and worked with him.
Aryadan Muhammed, who was ailing for some time, died in a private hospital in Kozhikode on Sunday. He was 87.
The eight-time MLA from Nilambur in Malappuram district entered politics as a Congress member in 1952. "My relationship with Aryadan started in 1966 when I was the KSU president and he was the Congress secretary of the undivided Kozhikode district," said Mullappally.
By then, the 31-year-old Aryadan had established himself as a trustworthy trade union leader of the plantation workers of Nilambur, he said. He struggled a lot and worked for the party in Malabar. "He used to come to Kozhikode from Nilambur with just a small handbag under his arm. It had a pair of dhoti and kurta. In the night, he would use the bag as his pillow and sleep on a bench in the party office," said Mullappally (77), a seven-time Lok Sabha member from Kannur and Vadakara constituencies.
Aryadan represented Nilambur assembly constituency eight times, six times in a row from 1987. In the 1980 byelection, he contested as a candidate of the Congress A group as part of the Left Front and defeated Mullappally. "There was a verbal duel between us and the two fronts. But the contest never caused a strain on our relationship. I always saw him as my elder brother," he said.
That year, chief minister E K Nayanar made him the Minister for Labour and Forest. "Under him, the government introduced wages for unemployed youths and agricultural labour pension. They were revolutionary Acts in India. I have no doubt Aryadan was behind them," he said.
In the assembly, Aryadan was considered a walking encyclopedia, said IUML organising general secretary and MP E T Mohammed Basheer. They were both from Malappuram and ministers in the second A K Antony government (1995-1996).
Arayadan barely cleared class 10, but he could debate with authority on budget, finance, and new laws.
"He does not need to refer to the rule book. He knew the rules, regulations, and convention of the Assembly by heart," said Basheer. He was lethal as an opposition MLA and would lay traps for ministers in his speech and they would take the bait, he said. "Aryadan would jab them but he would never hit below the belt," Basheer said.
He knew the rules, regulations, and convention of the Assembly by heart.
Research students coming to the Assembly library would refer to his speeches because they had a lot of data and details, he said.
That's the hallmark of Aryadan's speeches right from his early days in the Assembly, said Mullappally.
In the late 1980s when the Bofors scandal broke out, Mullappally was a first-time MP in the Lok Sabha. "Aryadan asked me to get all the documents available on the topic from Parliament. He studied them and then went on a spree giving stump speeches and educating party workers and people in Malabar districts," he said. That was just one example of his greed to know. Decades later, he did the same during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
He was strongly opposed and exposed communalism, whether it was perpetrated by proponents of extreme Hindutva politics or extreme Islamic politics, said Mullappally. "Ideologically, he disagreed with the Muslim League. He always saw it as a communal party. Even then, he did not allow that (his opposition) to hamper the unity of the United Democratic Front," said the former Congress president.
Aryadan strived for the unity of the front but never diluted his views on the Muslim League, he said. "His contribution in keeping the secular Muslims with the Congress is huge. He spoke for the minorities by upholding secular politics," Mullappally said.
Basheer said there were political disagreements but Aryadan would iron them out before elections. His dexterity and diplomacy as a trade union leader stood him in good stead when he was dealing with IUML, he said.
The CPM's Malappuram district secretary E N Mohandas said Aryadan had a bitter-sweet relationship with the IUML, and except for the two years (1980-1982), he always opposed the CPM. In Malappuram district, he has an image of an effective trade union leader who always stood by the workers.
"But for me, Aryadan was a Congress leader who carried forward the legacy of freedom fighter and scholar Mohammad Abdurahiman Sahib (1898-1945), Congress leader and reformer E Moidu Moulavi (1886-1995), and Gandhian and educationist P P Ummer Koya (1922-2000)," he said.
They were icons of secularism in Malabar districts. "Unfortunately, it is rare to find such a Congress leader in Malappuram district today. The present crop often takes an opportunistic stance," Mohandas said. Aryadan was different from them, he said.