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Popular Front

Communalism of any kind is unacceptable because it seeks to divide people on religious grounds. History bears proof that a nation progresses when there is unity among the people. India has a long way to go before it can claim that none of its citizens goes to sleep with an empty stomach and everybody has a roof over his head. 

BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani in his autobiography “My Country, My Life” mentions how the arrival of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in his home town in what is now Pakistan inspired the youth. They wore the khaki knicker and white shirt with pride and took out parades in Karachi. He says it gave a great sense of security to young men like Advani.

He did not mention how the parades of the lathi-wielders would have impacted the Muslim youth in the city. Would they have felt secure when the parades and the training that preceded them were held? Surely, they would have felt insecure in their own land.

Did the Hindus of Karachi feel secure after the arrival of the RSS? When the Partition occurred, they had to leave the town and find shelter in India where Advani went on to become the Deputy Prime Minister at one time. The point to be noted is that muscle-flexing does not help anyone, including the muscle-flexers themselves.

In Kerala, the Popular Front of India is a new entity which has, of late, been in the news for the wrong reasons. It is able to organise people at short notices and take out parades which are impressive for the colourful uniform the participants wear and the equally colourful flags they hold. Once I thought the picture of its procession was that of the Baathist Party of Iraq. 

There have been allegations that it is behind what is called “love jihad” and recruitment of young Muslims to wage war in distant lands like Syria and Iraq to establish a Caliphate. There were also reports about the Front providing arms training and making incendiary items like bombs. Surely, they could not have been with the noble motive of spreading peace, which is what Islam means.

Has the arrival of the PFI brought a greater sense of security to the Muslims in Kerala? It has not. Far from that, it has helped the rivals to strengthen themselves. There is perpetual propaganda that life of the Hindus has become difficult in Kerala, especially in Muslim-majority areas like Malappuram.

In fact, an acquaintance in Delhi asked me in all seriousness whether the Hindus in Malappuram district were able to practice their religion. I was shocked to hear the question, which was the result of the whisper campaigns and unabashed propaganda unleashed by the vested interests. They see a threat in the PFI.

For the majority communalism to thrive, there must be a hate object. Before and during the Third Reich in Germany, the Jews filled the bill as the object of hate. Those who have read Adolf Hitler would know how he portrayed the small Jewish community as the villain of the piece. He claimed that their very presence was a threat to the very existence of the German nation. His rhetoric, his oratorical skills and organising ability helped him to come to power. 

Did the muscle-flexing by Germany help the nation? Far from that, it became a heap of rubble by the time Hitler and his consort committed suicide for fear that they would be caught alive, tried and punished. And what kind of people were the Jews?

I read a recent study in the US which found that among the jailbirds there the least in number were the Jews. Indians, Christians, Muslims, Protestants, Catholics and Syrian Christians of Kerala all had a higher representation than the Jews in the US jails. In sharp contrast, no community in the world comes anywhere near the Jews in terms of the Nobel Prizes they won. Yet, the very same Jews were targeted by the Nazis in their successful bid to come to power. 

The PFI attracted public attention when Prof TJ Joseph’s hand was cut off a few years ago. I had at that time explained in my column that the question paper he set was about a Mohammed and not the Prophet Mohammed.

Almost every Muslim man has a variant of “Mohammed” as part of his name. So when a report says “Mohammed found guilty” it only means someone whose name is Mohammed was found guilty by a court of law. Nobody saw the attack on Joseph as blasphemy, though his name was that of the husband of Mary, one of the most venerated names in the Quran, not to mention the Bible.

Why was his hand cut? Because those who took the sword against Prof Joseph did not know what they were doing. Worse, they did not even know what crime the Malayalam Professor committed. The truth of the matter is that he did not commit any crime at all. They were a bunch of hate-filled criminals who thought they were on a mission to save Islam from danger.

While what the arm-cutters did is well known, few people know that a large number of Muslim youth came forward to donate blood to Prof Joseph. He himself told me this story. They were atoning for what the misguided among them did. That was Islam in action!

The Justice Sachar committee report detailed the kind of backwardness that prevailed among the Muslims. It put a stop, once and for all, to the propaganda that the Muslims were the beneficiaries of appeasement. Instead, it was found that the socio-economic conditions of the Muslims were comparable or worse than that of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

The report highlighted the low percentage of representation they had in the government. Today the situation has become worse with the Muslims not having any representation worth the name in the Cabinets at the Centre and in the Northern states.

Among the Muslims, the ones in Kerala are undoubtedly one of the most prosperous. There are many reasons for the same, the first and foremost being the level of education they have attained. Recently, when writer Punathil Kunjabdullah died, the whole of Kerala mourned his death. Nobody saw him as a mere Muslim.

The encomiums showered on him by writers like M Mukundan, Zachariah and MT Vasudevan Nair had to be read to realise how saddened they were by his death. The Mathrubhumi Weekly, easily the most prestigious Malayalam publication, devoted a whole issue to highlight the contributions of Abdullah to Malayalam literature. 

The Malayali Muslims took advantage of education and got into services, business and other professions. They also took full advantage of the new opportunities in the Gulf so much so that they are now economically much better off than many other communities in the state and elsewhere.

Organisations like the PFI had no role at all in the economic and social emancipation of the Muslims. All that the Muslims want is a level-playing field so that they can prosper. The PFI considers reservation as the panacea for all the ills that afflict the Muslims. When even Patels, one of the most prosperous communities in the world, ask for reservation in Gujarat, the Muslims, too, have a right to claim the benefits of reservation.

The Dalit Christians, too, need reservation but to demand it there is no need for a military-like organisation which can hold a march-past at Thiruvanthapuram at short notice. The struggle has to be peaceful. 

When the Babri Masjid was destroyed in an act of sheer devilishness, the Muslims of Kerala reacted in a befitting manner. They showed considerable restraint. There was no violence in the state.

Imagine how would the situation have been if there was violence in the Muslim areas. That is what the communalists on the other side would have wanted. That brings me to another point. 

Hindu communalism cannot grow without Muslim or Christian communalism. They feed on each other. They create fear about each other. Over a hundred years ago, a book was written that Hindus would become a minority in the country. That did not happen. Similar campaigns are made by the likes who exhort Hindu women to produce more children. 

India is in many ways unique. Its democracy may be imperfect but it has stood the test of time. See how a few images of crowds assembling to hear Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat have rattled the ruling party at the Centre whose leader claims to have a chest of 56 inches. They have come to realise that one more foolish action like demonetisation would finish the party’s hold on the people.

In India, greater leaders like Indira Gandhi had to eat humble pie when the people turned against them. Everybody is naked under his clothes and is selfish. When he realises that Mann Ki Baath alone will not take him anywhere, he will assert his displeasure.

Take the case of the holy cow. Even those who consider the cow reverential would be appalled if they are told that they cannot sell their cows and get some money for whatever they are worth. At the end of the day, everybody wants to lead a comfortable life. If politics stands in the way, they would hate it.

Imagine what would happen if every Muslim joins the Popular Front and take part in its processions. Will it make the conditions of the Muslims any better in the state? No, it will not. On the contrary, it will help the saffron brigade to strengthen its roots in the state.

It is not that the community did not have visionaries. I mentioned Punathil Kunjabdullah. He was a medical doctor. He did his MBBS from Aligarh Muslim University. The university played a major role in the progress of Muslims. It has a Nobel Prize medal gifted to it by an alumnus who won the Nobel for Physics. 

The AMU was the idea of Sir Syed Ahamed Khan who visualised that Muslims could prosper only if they could take advantage of what was called English education. The Muslim elite in North India, including Pakistan, was the product of AMU. That is why when the Nobel Prize winner was disowned by Pakistan because he was an Ahmadi, he sent his medal to AMU!

On November 1, Kerala celebrated its 61st birthday. The day marked the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Kerala state lottery. It was the idea of PK Kunju who was the finance minister in the second EMS Namboodiripad ministry. This year the Kerala government expects to collect Rs 10,000 crore by way of lottery.

Kunju was from my village. He was a visionary. He realised the need for a college at Kayamkulam and he set up Milad-e-Sherief Memorial College. He organised a lottery to raise funds for the college. He sold tickets all over Kerala and raised money to build the college. For the poor in Kayamkulam and nearby areas, MSM College was their gateway to success. It was this experience that helped Kunju Saheb as he was popularly known to think of the state organising a lottery of its own.

Not far away from Kayamkulam is Kollam where the TKM College of Engineering is situated. It was set up by a rich Muslim who did not have the benefit of even elementary education. Jokes abound about his wealth and lack of education. 

As one joke goes, he was caught urinating in public in London and was arrested and brought before a magistrate who fined him £10. He thought that was the fee for passing urine in London and took out £500 as advance payment of the fees!

Joke aside, he was a visionary whose engineering college produced thousands of engineers, not necessarily Muslims, who serve the nation in various way. I know at least a dozen of them serving in organisations as prestigious as the DRDO.

When the history of the Muslims in Kerala is written, there will be a chapter on the role of the Muslim Education Society (MES) which set up several colleges in the state and it will be written in golden letters. The Muslims of Kerala need more institutions of excellence than organisations which recruit Jihadis to fight in foreign lands. Let the fight be against illiteracy and hatred and for peace and prosperity of one and all. Remember nobody is greater than all of us!

The writer can be reached at  ajphilip@gmail.com

(Published on 06th November 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 45)