IUML confident in Kerala, Tamil Nadu: P.K. Kunhalikutty

The party's national general secretary anticipates sweeping victories, despite the LDF's campaign around the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)

Kunhalikutty (pictured) criticises LDF's focus on attacking Rahul Gandhi, stressing UDF's upper hand in Kerala (photo: @PKKunhalikutty/X)
Kunhalikutty (pictured) criticises LDF's focus on attacking Rahul Gandhi, stressing UDF's upper hand in Kerala (photo: @PKKunhalikutty/X)

Ashlin Mathew

“We are going to win all the seats we are contesting in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu,” asserts P.K. Kunhalikutty, national general secretary of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and deputy leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Legislative Assembly.

The IUML is contesting two seats in Kerala and one in Tamil Nadu. Party supremo Panakkad Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal had stated that the party would field its sitting MP, K. Navas Kani, in Tamil Nadu’s Ramanathapuram.

Veteran IUML leader E.T. Mohammed Basheer is contesting from Malappuram, after having won thrice from Ponnani. He defeated P.V. Anvar of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) by a margin of 1,93,273 votes in 2019. It was a record-breaking win for Basheer, who had garnered 5,21,824 votes against Anvar's 3,28,551 votes. In 2014, the difference between UDF and LDF in this constituency had reduced to 25,000 votes.

The CPM has fielded DYFI leader V. Vaseef to take on Basheer in Malappuram, and moved Malappuram MP Abdussamad Samadani to contest from Ponnani. The LDF has nominated former League leader K.S. Hamza to take on Samadani there.

Despite the LDF's aggressive campaigning on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its attempt to woo Muslim voters in the Malabar region, the IUML seems set to comfortably win both seats — Malappuram and Ponnani. “People are upset with the LDF in the state and all they can do is attack the Congress. What will they do if they win a few seats? They can’t ensure the safety of the minorities like the Congress can,” says Kunhalikutty, adding that the state government has not been able to pay salaries or pensions on time.

Kunhalikutty also wonders why Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the LDF are constantly attacking Rahul Gandhi and spreading falsehoods, saying the former Congress president hasn’t spoken up about the Citizenship Amendment Act. Gandhi has in fact spoken of it several times, and has now even clarified his stand at the massive UDF public meeting on Kozhikode beach on Monday, 15 April.

Indirectly taking on the chief minister’s accusations, Gandhi stated that the party would never decide citizenship on the basis of caste or religion. Pointing this out, Kunhalikutty says that Gandhi had publicly stated his opposition to the CAA and people are satisfied.

“All through my rallies in Malappuram today, I have reiterated what Rahul Gandhi has said and what several other leaders have said," says the former MP and current MLA from Kerala's Vengara Assembly Constituency, which falls under the Malappuram Lok Sabha constituency. "The people of these constituencies are intelligent (enough) to understand who will support them."

"Why is the LDF suddenly raising this issue?" he asks. "It is because they cannot make anything else their rallying point during this election?”

Sadiq, who had come to hear what Basheer had to say, agreed that only the senior leader would win from the constituency. “LDF can try, but people are smarter. What can they do about CAA when it is an issue of the union government? They are just raising the issue to attract the minorities.”

Kunhalikutty adds that Vijayan can claim many things, but “instead of making the CAA an issue, they should attack the BJP."

"The CPI(M) is also a partner of the INDIA bloc and they should remember that," says Kanhalikutty. "None of us are going out of the way to attack the Left. CPI(M) should start talking about the BJP’s policies instead of always attacking the Congress.”

En route Mallapuram to participate in a public meeting where Karnataka deputy chief minister D.K. Shivakumar was scheduled to speak on Tuesday, 16 April, Kanhalikutty weighs the political chances of the UDF. He sees it as having the upper hand in Kerala, for sure, and adds a prediction for the neighbouring southern state too: "DMK, Congress and IUML will win in Tamil Nadu too. It is unlikely that BJP will be able to make in-roads."

Though the LDF has been attempting to woo Muslims in general and the IUML in particular, Kunhalikutty insists that the League has been with the Congress for decades and there is no question of them abandoning that alliance. “All these are just diversionary tactics to get votes,” he says.

Discussing the IUML demand of three Lok Sabha seats from the Congress, the senior party leader sought to play down the intra-alliance differences: “What is the point of bringing it up now? We have reached an agreement with the Congress and they know our demands.

"The race for 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala is heating up and all that we need to think about is winning the maximum number of seats in the state.”

All 20 constituencies in Kerala will go to the polls on 26 April, in the second phase of the Lok Sabha election.

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