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|September 8, 1999||
Muslims will decide Muraleedharan's future
It is the politics of money, muscle and minorities that rules campaigning in Kozhikode.
Former prime minister H D Deve Gowda's Man Friday Chand Mahal Ibrahim is pitted against Congress veteran K Karunakaran's son K Muraleedharan. Ibrahim and Muraleedharan are both banking on the same vote bank -- the Muslims. What would determine the poll outcome, thus, will not be any national issue, but the undercurrent of the decisive Muslim votes.
With caps on their heads, Ibrahim and Muraleedharan are campaigning in right earnest, eulogising their achievements. For the Kozhikode voters, Muraleedharan is a familiar face, having won there twice. But Ibrahim, the Karnataka Janata Dal unit president and former aviation minister, an 'outsider', always begins his speeches by announcing that he is also a 'son' of Kozhikode.
"I often come here to pray. What better things can I do to be part of the local people?" he asks.
It is true. Ibrahim, comes down quite often to worship at a Sunni centre in Madavur in Kozhikode. Ibrahim is a Sunni and has strong links with the ultra-conservative Sunni section led by Kanthapuram A P Aboobacker Musaliar. As he is the Left Democratic Front candidate, Ibrahim also has the backing of a large number of Marxists.
Muraleedharan, with the able backing from his veteran father, has also unleashed a vigorous campaign for the crucial Muslim vote bank. Father and son have managed to win over the most influential Muslim leader in Kozhikode -- the Indian Union Muslim League's Panakkad Mohammed Ali Shihab Thangal. Thangal was so enthused by the Karunakaran family that he sponsored the deposit money when Muraleedharan filed his nomination.
Literally, Ibrahim may not be Kozhikode's son, but he is not far away from the constituency. Ibrahim is a native of Koothuparambu in the nearby Kannur district, but his business establishments are firmly rooted in Kozhikode. Thus, though he lives in Bangalore and New Delhi, the former minister has been a frequent visitor to Kozhikode.
Ironically, his close business associate in the city is none other than Maraleedharan's father-in-law. Therefore, Muraleedharan and Ibrahim are close business associates privately, though publicly they proclaim ideological and political differences. Both are also caught in embarrassing cases -- the families of Ibrahim and Muraleedharan are in the dock as their timber businesses tumbled after nature lovers campaigned against excessive felling of trees in Kakkayam near Kozhikode.
Muraleedharan's campaign managers are counting on the IUML's support to ensure another victory for their candidate. In 1989, when Muraleedharan made his electoral debut he won by defeating E K Imbichibava of the Communist Party of India-Marxist. He repeated it in 1991 by defeating Janata Dal leader and Mathrubhumi owner M P Veerendra Kumar. But in 1996, he suffered a rude setback when Kumar defeated him.
Muraleedharan was on a strong wicket this time till the Left Democratic Front suddenly announced Ibrahim's candidature. Kozhikode has remained a confusing and complex constituency for both the Congress and Left Democratic Front. Though the LDF won all the seven assembly seats in Kozhikode district in the last assembly election, in the Lok Sabha poll, the voters have always alternated between the Congress and LDF candidates.
The electoral strength of the constituency -- 11,20,811-- has swelled by nearly 38,000 votes since the 1998 election. There has been an increase of 3.44 per cent in the number of voters with females having a slight edge over the males. The decisive votes in the constituency have almost always emanated from three assembly segments -- Sulthan Bathery, Kalpetta and Thiruvambady. Among these, Sultan Bathery with 1,77,787 has the largest chunk of Muslim, Thiyya and Nair votes.
Giving a tough job to Muraleedharan and Ibrahim is Bharatiya Janata Party candidate P C Mohan Master. The BJP has taken special care to perform its best in Kozhikode over the years. In the 1998 election, it improved its tally to a record of 84,000 votes.
Muraleedharan will confront serious problems within the Congress if he is defeated. "There is already resentment in the party that Karunakaran is pushing his son so far. If he is defeated the rivalry between the Karunakaran and Antony factions will increase," says a local Congress leader referring to the factional politics between the two senior leaders.
But a defeat for Ibrahim would not make any serious difference to his political fortune, as he is now a Rajya Sabha MP.
Both Muraleedharan and Ibrahim face embarrassing questions from the electorate. The charge against Muraleedharan is familiar: he has done precious little in Kozhikode though he was an MP for seven years.
As aviation minister two years ago, Ibrahim had made a number of high-profile visits and sanctioned the hub-and-spoke flights to Saudi Arabian cities like Jeddah and Riyadh and introduced a 10 per cent cut in the airfare to major Gulf cities. But Ibrahim's ministerial sanctions have not been executed properly. Moreover, his promise to name the Kozhikode airport after V K Krishna Menon, the best-known citizen of the city, still remains on paper.
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