Muslim factor

Print edition : May 02, 2014

Muslims protest against DMDK cadres canvassing outside the Jamia Masjid area in Salem on march 28. Photo: E. LAKSHMI NARAYANAN

THE MUSLIM community in Tamil Nadu is highly perturbed by the electoral alliance forged by a few fledgling Dravidian parties with a “Modified” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It fears that forces of “religious fascism” would be unleashed in a State which has been free from communal violence, barring the Coimbatore blasts in 1998. The reason for this apprehension is not far to seek, especially in view of the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in the BJP-ruled Gujarat. The political realignment has resulted in a sharp polarisation and consolidation of votes on the basis of religion.

An extensive tour by this correspondent of towns, tier-II cities and remote hamlets and villages, mainly in the western, central and northern belts of the State, revealed some unprecedented, disquieting developments.

The mood in the BJP is understandably buoyant. Its rainbow coalition is a powerful third front, posing a stiff challenge to the “electoral supremacy” of the AIADMK and the DMK in all constituencies barring the Nilgiris, where the nomination papers of its candidate, S. Gurumurthy, were rejected.

In fact, the two Dravidian parties appear to have vied with each other to increase the BJP’s acceptability in the State. The AIADMK allied with the BJP in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, while the DMK did so in 1999. The BJP, which was kept out of the State for 16 years, has found new partners in this round of elections to stage a comeback.

S.R. Imam Mohaidheen, the naik muthavalli of the Salem Ammapet Chinna Jumma Masjid, said at a meeting in Salem, in which religious scholars and senior citizens of the community participated, that Muslims would never accept communal forces that disturb social amity. “This election is crucial to us. Our men have cancelled their holy ‘yatras’ to remain in their places to cast their votes,” he said.

Kovai Syed, State secretary of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK), which has mobilised people across the State against the BJP combine, pointed out that Muslims in Tamil Nadu were not averse to the BJP. “But we do fear the image of a BJP that has been ‘Modified’. Members of our jamaat [congregation] have spread out to create this awareness among our people,” he said.

While the “NaMo” factor has consolidated the BJP cadre elsewhere in the country, in Tamil Nadu it has unified the minorities as never before. “Until the last elections, we used to advise our people to avoid ‘majoritarian religious fundamentalism’. Today, we are specific. We urge our people in every town and village in Tamil Nadu to vote against the BJP combine. We have started asking them to vote for the DMK,” said Sheik Mohammed in Salem, a constituency where the DMDK’s L.K. Sudhish faces a hostile minority population. Salem has a Muslim population of 77,648.

The intriguing silence of AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa on Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, has created suspicion in the minds of the minority community and has prompted it to opt for the DMK en bloc. “There is a fear that she might support Modi in the post-election scenario. That is why we have made our preference for the DMK clear,” Kovai Syed said.

A senior cleric in Erode, which has a Muslim population of 77,211, said the TMMK was entrusted with the job of communicating election-related matters to the people through door-to-door campaigning. The clerics were not involved directly this time, he said. “All religious places and madrasas have been kept out of this.”

Members of the community dismissed the claims that Muslim women voters would prefer to stay indoors. “We will ensure nearly 90 per cent voting by our people, including by women voters, in every constituency,” said Rafiq, a jamaat functionary in a village near Attur in Kallakurichi constituency in Villupuram district, which has a Muslim population of more than one lakh.

Sheriff Jonson Basha, a 63-year-old non-resident Indian from Attur town, claimed that the 2002 Gujarat riots still haunted Muslims. “We can accept anyone other than Modi. We would have preferred either the Congress or the Left. But the Congress is in dire straits, while the Left is ploughing a lonely furrow on barren land. We do not want to waste our votes this time,” he said.

The dislike for the “Modi alliance” was visible across the State. Even a seasoned politician like Vaiko of the MDMK, who is contesting from Virudhunagar, is facing stiff opposition. He had to skip a campaign meeting at Thummanaickenpatti village in Peraiyur block when he was told that Muslims there would not prefer to welcome him.

“We respect him as a good leader. But he should not have joined an alliance that is showcasing itself as the ‘Modified BJP’. We are sad,” said Mohammed Ezhia, a senior muthavalli of three jamaats in Virudhunagar district, which has a Muslim population of 43,309.

Hostile receptions awaited BJP alliance candidates in other constituencies, too. The DMDK candidate for Madurai, D. Sivamuthukumar, was greeted with black flags at Mehboobpalayam in Madurai city. Black flags were also found hoisted atop the houses there. Madurai has a Muslim population of nearly 1.37 lakh.

In fact, Muslim functionaries in the BJP alliance are embarrassed.

Anwar, 45, husband of a woman ward member of the DMDK in Thiagadurgam Town Panchayat in Villupuram district, said the town had nearly 3,000 Muslims. “These people elected my wife on the DMDK ticket in the local body elections. How can I go and ask votes for the alliance today?” he said.

Many Muslims find themselves in the same predicament. Tamil Nadu has a Muslim population of 34,70,647, constituting 5.56 per cent of the total population, as per Census 2001. Christians number 37,85,060 and constitute 6.02 per cent of the State’s population. Ramanathapuram district has the highest percentage of Muslims, 14.65 per cent, followed by Vellore (10.08 per cent) and the Nilgiris (9.54 per cent). Minority votes are expected to decide the result in the majority of the 39 constituencies.

R. Ilangovan

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
×