Is IUML a communal organisation? BJP and CPI(M) differ even as anecdotes get retold

Along with Congress, the Left party attaches a secular tag to the IUML, perhaps the only party that has to repeatedly prove its secular credentials.

ByK A Shaji

Published Dec 12, 2022 | 7:23 PMUpdatedDec 12, 2022 | 7:24 PM


A north Kerala village was on the verge of a communal flare-up in the early 1990s when dried coconuts dropped from a coconut tree.

The falling coconuts — and they dropped frequently — damaged the tiled roof of a mosque in the neighbouring compound. The tree belonged to a conservative Hindu family, who rejected the mosque managing committee’s repeated demands to axe the tree.

The issue soon took a communal colour, and before it went out of hand, the village elders intervened and advised both parties to take the matter to the revered Panakkad Mohammedali Shihab Thangal, the then president of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML).

After hearing both sides, Thangal gave some cash to the mosque authorities. He asked them to reconstruct the mosque with a concrete roof.

“This is the first contribution towards rebuilding the mosque. The clay roof tiles must be replaced,” he reportedly told them.

Both sides returned. Thangal’s decision, however, embarrassed the matriarch of the Hindu household, who admonished her children for trying to divide the society on communal lines. The same night, she met Thangal and apologised for her sons’ behaviour.

The League leader pacified the woman, saying that the tree should not be axed, terming it the elixir of life.

IUML leaders were once again forced to remind Kerala of the decades-old story of Thangal’s mediation and largesse after BJP’s state president K Surendran termed the League a communal and religious entity on Sunday, 11 December.

Mistaken identity

The second-largest constituent in the Congress-led UDF, the IUML has always been a target of the BJP and RSS, which often (mis)identifies the party’s flag as that of the Pakistan Muslim League, or of Pakistan itself.

The latest accusation came during Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s campaign in Wayanad during the 2019 Lok Sabha election. It was then alleged that the Pakistani flag was waved during a campaign rally.

Earlier, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath termed IUML a virus that had infected the Congress. Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Congress of being subservient to the League.

CPI(M) Kerala state secretary MV Govindan’s recent statement that the IUML is not a communal outfit was the trigger for Surendran’s outburst.

MV Govindan, CPI(M) Kerala state committee secretary. (KB Jayachandran)

Govindan’s statement indicated a shift in the CPI(M)’s stand taken in 1985 after the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case provoked Islamic fundamentalists. The Left party had then supported the verdict.

Ever since the Shah Bano case, the CPI(M) had snapped all ties with the IUML and viewed it to be communal outfit. The Left party’s stand remained unchanged even after the League went into overdrive to avoid riots in Kerala after the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December, 1992.

CPI(M) wooing IUML

The CPI(M) is now trying to lure the IUML following reports that League leaders are disgruntled with the UDF. They also hold a grudge against the Congress over its style of functioning.

IUML insiders said the party leadership felt the Congress is not doing enough to deal with the Hindutva threat. The party also wants to project leaders like Shashi Tharoor as the prominent face of the opposition.

It also has differences with the Congress leadership over the soft-peddalling the “threat” posed by Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, who the IUML believes, is implementing the RSS agenda.

However, IUML’s current president, Sadique Ali Shihab Thangal, younger brother of the late Mohammed Ali, has categorically ruled out the party crossing over to the LDF camp.

The Congress leadership, meanwhile, expressed happiness over the CPI(M)’s changed opinion that IUML is not a communal party. Congress said the late Marxist ideologue and chief minister EMS Namboodiripad had attached the communal tag to the League.

EMS Namboodiripad

EMS Namboodiripad. (India Post)

​Incidentally, the IUML was part of the Namboodiripad-led ministry in 1967.

​When contacted, IUML leader KPA Majeed said no other political formation in the country had to periodically prove its secular and patriotic credentials like his organisation.

“Unlike what the BJP and RSS propagates outside the state, the IUML is an inclusive party, with Hindu and Christian members. It is a minority party, and it aims the welfare of all, irrespective of their religion,” he told South First.

Malayalam writer and academic MN Karassery concurred: “Like any other mainstream political party, the IUML too is power-hungry and has all the decay seen in today’s Indian political system,” he told South First.

“But I can say with authority that IUML is not a communal outfit,” Karassery, who had worked with the party’s mouthpiece Chandrika for 26 years, added.

The writer further recalled the post-Babri Masjid demolition scenario. “Several people termed the IUML’s practical stand a surrender to the Congress under PV Narasimha Rao to continue in power. But the IUML’s stand helped Kerala in averting large-scale communal violence,” he said.

“The IUML is the sole reason why extremist Islamic outfits are failing to find a foothold in the state,” Karassery added.

The League legacy

Referring to Surendran’s observation that the IUML is communal, Majeed recalled a statement made by IUML founding president Millath Mohammed Ismail in the Lok Sabha in the early 1960s.

Ismail reportedly said that he would send his children to the frontline to fight Pakistan if that country attacked India.

“His statement was followed by a much stronger one from our late iconic leader, CH Mohammed Koya. ‘Our children and we will be the first to fight if Mecca, to which we are spiritually bound, dares to attack India’,” Majeed recollected.

​IUML national general secretary PK Kunhalikutty was of the opinion that only those politicians unfamiliar with contemporary history believed that the IUML is the legatee of Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s All India Muslim League.

“On the contrary, we have a legacy of standing for secular democracy, social justice and freedom struggle. We inherited the legacy of those leaders who refused to join hands with Jinnah’s League post-Independence,” he said.

​The IUML was formed at a convention held under the leadership of ​Mohamed Ismail in Madras on 10 March 1948. In 1957, Jawaharlal Nehru dismissed the IUML as a dead horse. But two years later, the Congress formed a coalition government which also had IUML members.

Opposition leader and senior Congress leader VD Satheesan said that the IUML kept “lunatic” fringe elements at bay. It may be noted that the Malappuram district, the IUML’s stronghold, has never witnessed a communal incident.

The IUML never had more than 20 members in the Kerala Assembly. The party had not opposed the government’s moves to lift the prohibition in North Kerala or when the lottery, which has several similarities to gambling, was launched.