Thiruvananthapuram: The protracted Israel-Hamas conflict has triggered much political heat in Kerala. Interestingly, the crossfire between the state’s two key political actors– the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) — is not over which side of the West Asian divide one is. Both, instead, are competing to flaunt their unflinching solidarity with the Palestinian people. Sort of a binary within the binary.
The true reason for the fresh round of wordy duel between the rival coalitions is obvious. Both are on an overdrive to win the goodwill and support of the Muslim community, which accounts for nearly one-fourth of the state’s population.
As in other parts of the world, Muslims in Kerala too are touched by the unforgiving retaliation unleashed on Gaza by Israel in response to the October 7 missile attack by Hamas.
From day one of the present, and the bloodiest, round of West Asian conflict, Muslim clerics and political Islamists have been overactive with their rhetoric. Social media is flooded with fiery speeches. The narrative is plain and direct. Israel is solely responsible for the unprecedented human tragedy foisted on innocent people in Gaza.
Hamas, on the other hand, is a resistance force fighting the ‘Zionist aggression’ and safeguarding the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, who have been effectively divested of their homeland. The brutal aggression being mounted by Israel for over a month is also one of the severest tests ever confronted by the Muslim ‘Ummah,’ the community of believers. The situation calls for total and unqualified solidarity with the Palestinian people.
In Kerala’s complex socio-political web, politicians are aware that it will be imprudent to ignore the play-up of emotions over the conflict, and the heart-wrenching human tragedy it continues to spawn.
True, the time-tested positions of both the Congress and the CPI(M) on the issue have been pro-Palestine. But the prevailing scenario is such that mere statements reiterating solidarity with Palestine people are not enough to dissuade the hurt feelings of large sections. This called for street shows. This is why parties on both sides of the divide began hitting the streets pledging solidarity with Palestine.
The first to organise a massive rally on the issue was the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a key ally of the Congress, in Kozhikode. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor was a prominent speaker at the event. Tharoor, however, left a jarring note when he termed the October 7 Hamas attack an act of aggression, even as he went on to condemn the disproportionate response by Israel. The IUML leaders themselves were displeased at this, and some of them did not hide their discomfiture. Tharoor later clarified that he did not deviate himself from the stated position of the Congress party, which fully supports the legitimate rights of Palestinian people over their homeland and peaceful resolution of the long-drawn West Asian strife, which had often escalated into armed conflicts.
Then it was the turn of the CPI(M) to assert that the Left had remained far more sincere, consistent, and committed to supporting the struggles of the Palestinians over decades than any other party in India. While coming down heavily on the position of the BJP regime on the issue, CPI(M) leaders also took potshots at the Congress accusing the party of diluting its stand on the Palestine issue considerably in recent decades.
The CPI (M) has planned a massive rally later this month over the issue. While leaving the Congress, it extended an invitation to IUML to join the rally. After some flip-flop, the IUML leaders turned down the invitation thinking that it would roil the internal dynamics of the UDF, to which the party is the second largest partner.
This CPI-M’s gesture, however, has triggered speculations that it is trying to wean IUML away from the Congress fold, and, eventually take it on the LDF board. Such a realignment would help the LDF to make handsome gains in the Lok Sabha polls in the state, where it got routed in 2019.
This possibility, however, stands on weak foundations. The IUML has been a long ally of the Congress, both in Kerala and outside. It is also an enthusiastic participant in I.N.D.I.A bloc. It’s not easy for the party to snap the long and close association with Congress and switch over to the LDF camp overnight.
Meanwhile, emotions over the dragging Israel-Hamas conflict will continue to play out in the state. Kerala has a deep connection with the Arabian peninsula, dating back centuries. The Gulf region is a major source of jobs and revenue for the state. The developments in West Asia like the Iraqi aggression of Kuwait in 1990, the US-led coalition’s attack on Iraq in the aftermath of the 9/11 of 2001, and the intervention of US forces in Afghanistan had subtle reflections on Kerala politics.