Bread and but­ter, not re­li­gion

Lo­cal is­sues are top of the mind in Ker­ala’s only Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity district

India Today - - COVER STORY - byM.G.Rad­hakr­ish­nan Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @MGRKr­ish­nan For more re­ports on Mus­lims in dif­fer­ent cities, log on to­di­a­to­­lims-cities

PHarris sells fish by the high­way at Trikkan­na­pu­ram, try­ing to lure speed­ing ve­hi­cles by flash­ing his lat­est catch at them. The 35-year-old was a con­struc­tion labourer un­til re­ces­sion hit the in­dus­try, ren­der­ing him job­less al­most a year ago. “Life has never been so bad. It has be­come so dif­fi­cult to feed my wife and three chil­dren even one meal a day,” he says. His eyes gleam only when asked about the forth­com­ing Gen­eral Elec­tions. “I hope some can­di­dates will give us money.”

Malap­pu­ram is Ker­ala’s only Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity district whose 16 As­sem­bly con­stituen­cies and two Lok Sabha seats have been tra­di­tion­ally mo­nop­o­lised by the Mus­lim League, the sec­ond-largest con­stituent in the rul­ing United Demo­cratic Front ( UDF). Mus­lims form Ker­ala’s largest mi­nor­ity— 24 per cent of the state’s 33 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion. Though it re­mains Ker­ala’s eco­nomic and so­cial back­yard, it ac­counts for more than 20 per cent of NRI re­mit­tances, which to­talled Rs 65,000 crore in 2013. The petro pros­per­ity is ev­i­dent from swanky shop­ping malls, restaurants that sell “gen­uine Arab food”, fancy houses, newly built roads, schools, and pri­vate hos­pi­tals dot­ting the district. How­ever, the boom co-ex­ists starkly with in­equal­ity and poverty for people such as Har­ris. Malap­pu­ram is also the hub of emerg­ing Mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions.

With elec­tions near­ing, the anx­i­ety level of the re­gion’s elite is ris­ing in pro­por­tion. “I wish BJP fielded a less fun­da­men­tal­ist leader such as L.K. Ad­vani,” says Dr Mu­jib Rehman, a sur­geon at Valanch­ery who is also sec­re­tary of the Mus­lim Ed­u­ca­tional So­ci­ety ( MES). The League’s dom­i­nance has helped Rahul Gandhi emerge as the most pop­u­lar prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date here. But there are doubters too.

“I wish BJP had fielded a less fun­da­men­tal­ist leader, such as L.K. Ad­vani.” MU­JIB REHMAN Doc­tor

“I doubt if he can stand up to strong con­tenders like Modi. He also has to prove his pro-growth cre­den­tials un­like Modi,” says P. Thab­sheera, a sec­ond year BSc stu­dent at MES’s col­lege at Valanch­ery. But the older gen­er­a­tion, more fo­cused on their own prob­lems than na­tional is­sues, still swears by the League. “Ever since my late hus­band told me to vote for them, I’ve stamped only for koni (lad­der, the League’s sym­bol),” says K. Kun­jeema, 84. Per­haps the last word is the most sur­pris­ing. “Modi and BJP in power may be more mod­er­ate than they are in Op­po­si­tion. So let’s try them out too,” says Ab­dulla Bakhavi, 65, imam at the 500-year-old Makhdoom Masjid in Pon­nani.

Pho­to­graph by C SHANKAR

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