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September 6, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Chand Mahal Ibrahim

'We've sacrificed ourselves for democracy and secularism'

Kerala's literate electorate is not known to be very receptive to Malayalis settled outside the state, especially when it comes to voting. Though some have built successful political careers elsewhere, they think twice before contesting in Kerala, where the political affiliations are clearly divided between the coalitions led by the communists and the Congress.

B G Varghese, who made a niche in the media-world, had to bite dust in Mavelikkara. T N Seshan from Palakkad settled for Gandhinagar in Gujarat. Ravindra Verma, a non-resident Malayali, entered the Lok Sabha from Bihar to become a minister in the V P Singh ministry.

Chand Mahal Ibrahim, who went to Bangalore as a youth in search of a job, had preferred Karnataka politics, where he rose meteorically under his godfather H D Deve Gowda. The Janata Dal Secular leader is now trying to prove that a non-resident Keralite can win an election here.

Ibrahim is contesting from Kozhikode, against K Muralidharan, son of senior Congress leader Kunnoth Karunakaran. Though the JD leader has his roots in Koothuparamba of Kannur district, he was not a familiar figure in Kerala till he became the civil aviation minister in the Deve Gowda government. He paid several high-flying visits to the northern region of the state as minister, using the opportunity to keep the non-resident Indians and their dependants, who form a substantial chunk of the population here, in good humour.

The steps he took to improve the air travel facilities from the region to Gulf countries brought him NRI acclaim. Ibrahim has the expansion of the Karippur airport, introduction of hub-and-spoke flights from Kozhikode to Saudi Arabia, a 10 per cent reduction in the airfare to major Gulf cities and steps for a new airport in Kannur to boost his chances.

The former minister, considered Deve Gowda's Man Friday, has lucrative promises in his kitty to woo the voters. He does not undermine the strength of his opponent, though the latter has tasted defeat in two consecutive elections from Kozhikode and Trichur. Being a Sunni Muslim, Ibrahim has close contacts with that conservative section led by Kanthapuram Abubacker Musliar, and banks heavily on these.

D Jose spoke to the politician about his chances, the state of the divided Janata Dal and its role after the election.

How do you feel as a newcomer in Kerala politics?

Who told you this nonsense? I am not at all a newcomer as my opponents have propagated. As a national leader of the Janata Dal, I have been participating in all political activities concerning Kerala. I have been a close friend of the state unit of the JD.

But you seem to have the image of an outsider in the constituency. How does it affect your campaign?

I am not at all an outsider. Therefore the question of it affecting my campaign does not arise. I am the son of Kuthiali in Kannur. Like thousands of Malayalis I too left the state in search of a job. I settled in Karnataka as I found a job there to earn my bread. You can't treat Keralites working outside the state as outsiders. They are very much part of the state, contributing immensely to the economy. If at all some think that those who work outside are outsiders, a citizen of India is free to contest from anywhere he likes. This is how Sonia is contesting from Bellary and L K Advani from Gandhinagar.

The Janata Dal which once propelled the government is in tatters today.

We are victims of the changing political situations. I think we have suffered a lot because we took strong stands against communal and fascist forces. We have been able to contain the growth of communal and fascist forces to a great extent. In the process we had to sacrifice a lot. Our first casualty was V P Singh, then Deve Gowda and last, I K Gujral. We don't regret it as we have sacrificed ourselves for democracy and secularism.

What would be the fate of the party after the election?

We will play a significant role to strengthen the Third Front and try our best to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party away from power. I am optimistic that the different JD factions will come together and strengthen the anti-communal Third Front.

The Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala has been accusing you of maintaining links with the underworld and pursuing the politics of minorities, money and muscle. What do you say about this?

Underworld links? I feel sorry for those who have levelled this charge against me. I am standing as a candidate of the LDF, which is the best watchdog against anti-national activities and the guardian of the working class. You see how the common men including auto drivers, farmers and fishermen support me. Will a person with underworld links be supported by the people in this literate state?

As regards the charge that I am banking on minorities for the win, I don't believe in communal votes. A candidate cannot win an election without the wholehearted support of all sections of people. Therefore my appeal is to all voters, irrespective of their caste and communal affiliations.

What you propose to do for the constituency if you are elected?

I have several things in mind. My first priority is to develop the Beypore port, which played a significant role in the history of Malabar. I think Beypore can be brought to its old glory if the port is properly developed. My second priority is to construct the Nanjangode-Vythri-Vatakara railway line, which is the longstanding demand of the people of the hilly Wyanad district. My friend Veerendrakumar, former MP, had taken some steps to fulfil the demand. I will follow it up. I would also do my best for the development of the Mysore-Calicut national highway, the proposed Kannur airport and the further development of the Karipur airport.

How do you rate your chances?

Considering the love and affection the people show me, I don't think there is anything to worry. I am optimistic of winning by a comfortable margin.

How do you rate your opponent?

Mr Muralidharan is a nice man. I don't like to say anything more.

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