AP Abdullakutty to join BJP: Saffron party seeks to draw Kerala's Muslims close, but experts doubt his clout within community

TK Devasia
AP Abdullakutty was admitted into the Congress fold in 2009 after the CPM expelled him for praising the Gujarat Model of development under then chief minister Narendra Modi

Expelled Congress leader AP Abdullakutty was given the nickname Atbudakutty (wonder kid) after he ended the iron grip of six-time Congress MP Mullappally Ramachandran over the Kannur Lok Sabha seat in north Kerala under the banner of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) at the age of 31 in the 1999 general election.

He proved worthy of his nickname by retaining the seat in 2004 and subsequently winning the Kannur Assembly seat for the Congress in 2009 and 2011. He was admitted into the Congress fold in 2009 after the CPM expelled him for praising the Gujarat Model of development under then chief minister Narendra Modi.

The Grand Old Party showed Abdullakutty the way out when he repeated his praise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he won his second term in the recently concluded Lok Sabha election. The 51-year-old leader got the invitation to join Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when he met the prime minister in New Delhi on Monday and conveyed his admiration directly to him.

Party president and Home Minister Amit Shah, whom he met subsequently, is learnt to have made the way clear for Abdullakutty's entry. The state unit of the party had already welcomed him following his expulsion from the Congress last month.

Abdullakutty's roots in the Muslim community is the major attraction for the BJP, which needs the support of the minority group €" which accounts for over 26 percent of the state's population €" to achieve its objective of coming to power in the state.

BJP strategists believe Abdullakutty will be able to draw Muslims close to the party as he has been able to win elections in his home district of Kannur with the support of the minority community, which has a sizeable presence in the northern district.

However, political analysts doubt Abdullakutty's ability to influence the community in any significant way since he is not considered a community leader. On the contrary, Muslims have been keeping him at arm's length as he entered politics through the communist party, which is considered beyond the pale due to its atheist ideology.

Abdullakutty remained wedded to the communist ideology in his early political career, and although he challenged the CPM attitude towards religion by embarking on a pilgrimage to Mecca and offering Eid prayers in the latter part of his political career, the community was seemingly unimpressed to the point of no religious or community groups inviting him to join their activities after he joined the Congress.

NP Chekutty, a senior journalist based in Kozhikode, feels that Abdullakutty's decision to join the BJP will further alienate him from the community.

"The BJP has been eyeing the Kanthapuram faction of Sunni Muslims for making an inroad into the Muslim vote bank," Chekutty said. "Though state BJP president PS Sreedharan Pillai bailed out faction leader Aboobacker Musliar from Chekannur Moulavi murder case, in which he was made an accused by the CBI, it has been throwing its weight behind the CPM. This is because the members of the community are not ready to obey leaders who deviate from their core beliefs."

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Mullappally Ramachandran agrees with Chekutty. "I am not at all surprised by Abdullakutty's decision to join the BJP. He is an opportunist and turncoat who is ready to go to any extent for the sake of power. I am sure he will soon become a political liability for the BJP."

Chekutty is also doubtful about the acceptance of Abdullakutty in the Sangh Parivar. He claimed the RSS is anti-Muslim, and that it will not allow BJP to promote him. He feels Abdullakutty may meet the fate of Tom Vadakkan and other Christian leaders isolated by the Sangh Parivar after they switched sides.

He said the BJP rank and file are also not enthused by the grand welcome being accorded by the party to leaders of the minority communities as they have not been able to draw in their support for the party.

The BJP earlier promoted Alphonse Kannanthanam, a Christian leader from central Kerala, with the hope that he will be able to bring the community close to the party. However, he has not been able to ensure the support of the community even for himself in the election in Ernakulam, in which he finished third.

Similarly, PC Thomas, leader of a splinter group of the Kerala Congress, was pushed to third position in Kottayam where he fought the election as an ally of the National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP. Political analysts view this as an indication that the members of the Christian community are still not ready to embrace the lotus.

The BJP, which used the Sabarimala temple issue to consolidate Hindu votes, has realised that it is difficult for the party to make an electoral breakthrough in Kerala without the support of minorities, who constitute about 45 percent of the state population.

Curiously, the fight by the BJP to protect the customs and traditions at Sabarimala did not help the party to get the support of even all sections of the Hindu faithful. A major section rallied behind the Congress-led United Democratic Front, helping it win 19 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the recent election.

Analysts view this as an indication of the unwillingness of the people to discard their strong secular traditions. They feel the BJP will not be able to break this easily by playing the religious card or parachuting leaders.€‹

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