Changing colours

Print edition : August 24, 2007

Abdul Nasser Maudany, absolved of the charges against him in the Coimbatore blasts case, attempts a political comeback.

in Thiruvananthapuram

Abdul Nasser Maudany at the civic reception given to him in Thiruvananthapuram after he was released from prison. Keralas Education Minister M.A. Baby and others are seen on the dais.-S. MAHINSHA

Abdul Nasser Maudany

IT was as if one could hear a pin drop over the roar of the crowd and the sound of waves on that rain-drenched beach, as the bent, bearded, middle-aged man in a wheel chair eventually reached for the microphone.

There was so much anticipation, curiosity, concern, eagerness, empathy and novelty that night near the sea in Thiruvananthapuram on August 2 as Abdul Nasser Maudany, for years the most visible face of Muslim fundamentalism in Kerala, raised his bony fingers towards the sky and revived his famed rhetorical skills as he addressed his supporters, after nine and a half years in prison, under trial in the Coimbatore bomb blasts case.

Unusually for political Kerala, and as a clear sign of the changing public profile of the man, riveted on the stage along with hundreds of others under intermittent rain, were three Ministers of the Left Democratic Front government Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, Education Minister M.A. Baby and Revenue Minister N.K. Premachandran.

The speech, over an hour long, was right on cue initially, a dramatic re-enactment of the harsh realities and injustice a handicapped undertrial prisoner like him had to undergo in Tamil Nadu, and a piercing attack against the system that had incarcerated him as a terrorist and a fundamentalist and then, finding no evidence, released him after nearly a decade, and left him a shadow of his former self and a drained-out victim of a series of human rights violations by the state. Then, as Maudany dramatically wrenched out the tattered artificial limb that he had been forced to wear without a replacement for several years in prison, and in a choking voice asked the Ministers to inspect it; raised it towards the crowd; began comparing his sufferings with that of Prophet Mohammed; and as his younger son Salavuddin Ayubi doubled over sobbing and his fiery supporters waited with bated breath ready to raise the cry of Bolo Takbir!, there was, instead, a pause.

The Maudany of yore, the fundamentalist firebrand orator that Kerala had once known, typically would have gone further, igniting kindred extremist passions among his supporters as well as enemies with exhortations and rhetoric that had often landed him in trouble and found him an accused, among other reasons, in 21 ongoing cases in various courts in Kerala.

But the emaciated Maudany, who had lost over 40 kg while in prison and was testing his oratorical skills after nearly a decade, seemed a very different man altogether. A hush fell over the crowd as he declared: My dear brothers, I have forgotten every thing that happened till yesterday evening. Every thing. I have no vengeance towards people who have acted against me. I have no hatred. I am not doing anything against them. I am not seeking compensation. I dont want anything.

His speech, from then on, appeared to be but a shrewd device for political re-positioning, using the charged atmosphere, upsurge in sympathy and popular support within Kerala towards him purely for the unjust suffering he had undergone in prison in Tamil Nadu.

Maudany literally seized the moment to announce that he was moving away from the Muslim fundamentalist platform that he had built up over the years word by word, as a young religious preacher in his local village, as the chairman of the feared Islamic Sevak Sangh (ISS) and later, as the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), towards one that was more accommodating, more mature, perhaps even secular. But it was a platform yet to take shape, if at all, and he described it only as an eventual unity of the oppressed people, the Dalits and the Muslims and that Keralas soil was not yet ready for it.

Let wisdom conquer emotions, Maudany said rhetorically several times in explanation, as he said his mistake was not that he had ever made a call that a Hindu should be killed or a temple should be destroyed but only that he had been severe in the manner in which he had spoken about the demolition of a mosque, perhaps, and that he had hurt the sentiments of a lot of his Hindu brethren.

Such a style is not needed. I have come a long way from such a state of mind. I will continue to say what I want to say, truthfully. I will speak against injustice. But I will not speak in a way that hurts the sentiments of people, especially my Hindu brothers. Earlier, my children used to be impulsive and overenthusiastic in their actions. But, I tell you today, my children, we dont need such overenthusiasm from now on. We will work within the system, he said.

Maudany recounted two major reasons for his change of heart. One, that during his life in prison, he had learned the way of spirituality and found a spiritual guru whose advice and the teachings of Allah helped him even to offer a pardon to the man who had hurled a bomb at him in 1992. The second reason was the fact that while he continued to suffer in prison and even though before his arrest he had targeted the members of the savarna Hindu community mos t severely, it was after all V.R. Krishna Iyer, a Brahmin by birth, and many Hindus like him, who first raised their voice against the injustice meted out to him at the Coimbatore jail. It was much later that members of his own community came out to help him. Moreover, he was overwhelmed by the support he received from the people in general and the Government of Kerala, and that changed his way of thinking.

But throughout the captivating speech, there were glimpses of the old Maudany. For instance, when he described the actions of a judge who, while denying his bail application, had said, being a victim of a bomb attack, bomb culture is inherent in Abdul Nasser Maudany and that human rights is for human beings, not for human animals; or when he recounted how the jail authorities had denied him proper treatment despite a Supreme Court order; or, when he announced that, unlike the judge who needs to be venerated for all time, he had decided to pardon the man who had tried to kill him with a bomb by not pursuing the case against him and claiming it a glorious act, not of his own making, but one that was necessitated by the glorious ideology that he believed in.

Maudany said pointedly that he would not name some people in his speech, those who hurt him most. Among them, perhaps, were former Chief Ministers A.K. Antony (whose government in Kerala sent a fax message to a Special Court judge about to grant him parole in 2002, stating that allowing Maudany to visit Kerala even briefly to attend his grandmothers funeral would cause a law and order problem), and Jayalalithaa (whose government in Tamil Nadu treated him like an ordinary criminal).

Maudany and his family with Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer at the latters residence in Kochi.-

Maudany and his

On stage he was really a ghost of the man he once was, looking gaunt and tired, cheeks hollowed, his amputated leg wasted and his fierce eyes, no longer so. But there was a glow in his eyes as he sat there with his two sons and the Ministers and the leaders of his party and looked at the crowd braving the rain just to listen to him from beginning to the very end.

The case of Abdul Nasser Maudany is certainly no credit to the Indian judicial system, which took nearly a decade to decide whether he had committed a crime or not. At one point Maudany asked his supporters in dismay: Who can compensate me for the years that I lost in prison? Who can compensate me for the suffering that I underwent? What crime did I commit to deserve such a punishment? What criminal charges did they prove against me? It was all a blatant lie.

Yet there is no doubt that Maudanys growth as a fundamentalist icon among Muslims in Kerala was all along, and until the day of his arrest, a cleverly calibrated one. Maudanys cassettes are still a craze among a section of the Muslim youth in Kerala, and one among them, he said, even visited him in prison and presented him a black cap, the one that he was wearing on stage that day. No doubt, Maudany had used every misfortune that came his way, including the bomb attack that took his leg, to his advantage, to widen continuously his support base and to threaten established political forces in Kerala.

This is why, even when Maudany declares that he is a changed man today and that his party is not a Muslim political outfit being nurtured as an alternative to the Muslim League, his homecoming becomes a cause for worry for Muslim League politicians in Kerala. Maybe it was a coincidence that the League brought back its tainted but efficient leader P.K. Kunhalikkutty as its general secretary, the very day Maudany was released from prison.

The PDP, the party that Maudany formed soon after his ISS was banned, was never a big political force in Kerala, but it always had its pockets of influence in key constituencies that often tilted for and against the coalitions led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress(I) on the basis of wafer-thin victory margins. But no sooner was Maudany locked up in jail, there also emerged a more virulent force in Muslim politics in the State the National Democratic Front. Maudanys unity of the oppressed, the Dalits and the Muslims could therefore occupy a prudent political space in the State in the long run, if indeed such a unity ever occurs. Until such time, Maudany said, the PDP would offer issue-based support to the LDF, a coalition that has at least started offering positions of power to members of the oppressed classes.

But can Maudany, the man who represented the Muslim fundamentalist fringe until recently, survive politically under a tame banner of the oppressed, the Dalits and the Muslims? Can he transform his cadre-based organisation to suit his new tastes? A question that Maudany asked his supporters towards the end of his speech in Thiruvananthapuram could well prove to be the biggest challenge for him from now on: Wont you all stay with me yet again, my children?

If they do not, Maudany would bide his time, seeking but only a temporary shelter until his immediate troubles fade away. Conflicting signals emerged from his speech. At one emotional juncture, for example, he said: When everyone in this world spoke against me, you gave me shelter within your hearts. You suffered a lot for me. You suffered hunger and a lot of pain. You sacrificed a lot for me. You did all that not out of love for me, but, certainly, out of love for my ideology. Here, my children, I submit myself fully for the realisation of that ideology.

But surely the popular image Maudanys ideology has in Kerala is one of religious fundamentalism, communalism, extremism, of hooded security guards, secret training camps, route marches and, yes, provocative speeches. Therefore, many people, not least in Kerala, would be looking closely at Maudanys freedom-day speech again and again for shreds that could be thrown back at him should he belie his own words ever in future.

To those who have heard Maudanys vitriolic speeches before his arrest in 1998, or bought the popular Maudany cassettes and compact disks, his pleasing manners and subdued, gentlemanly responses the day after he was released should have been a startling surprise. No doubt, for them, Maudanys August 2 speech would serve as a lodestone to judge the born-again politician from now on. For such people, including those in the police and intelligence network in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the most disarming point of view today ought to be Maudanys statement that he had to undergo such suffering in prison not because he was a Muslim but only because he became a much-misunderstood Muslim.

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