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This is the last of a four-part series.
Read from the beginning. E M Abdul Rahman,
said to be an Islamic fundamentalist, proclaims, "There is no Muslim fundamentalism in Kerala."

Sinfully harmless.

It's hard to believe that the man opposite us heads an outfit that is reportedly the "most dreaded Islamic fundamentalist" force in Kerala.

Abdul Rahman, the new chairman of the National Development Front, is the antithesis of how a fundamentalist ought to look. Frail, his beard streaked with grey, his eyes don't burn with religious fervour behind the thick glasses. His words, scrupulously chosen and carefully enunciated, belong to the assistant librarian he is at the Cochin University, not a member of the orthodox fraternity.

Could it be that the authorities are mistaken?

They claim not. "The NDF is the most radical force in the state today," intelligence sources allege, "The PDP (People's Democratic Party) and other extremist groups are nothing compared to it."

E-Mail this report to a friend Muslim extremism in Kerala can be traced to the banned Islamic Sevak Sangh. After the Babri Masjid demolition, ISS founder Abdul Nassar Madani fathered the PDP. With Madani's arrest in the Coimbatore blasts case, PDP activities more or less came to a halt.

Now, the authorities hold, the NDF has taken over. They link it with most infamous activities that rocked Kerala recently, especially in and around Manjeri where the outfit is headquartered.

"The NDF started functioning in 1988-89," the sources say, "But its existence became public only in November 1993. It projects itself as a human rights organisation. Its hidden agenda includes Jihad and Islamic rule in India."

The Communist Party of India-Marxist, head of the state's ruling Left Democratic Front, recently accused it of running "60 Taliban-like" training camps all over Kerala.

Rahman, considered by official agencies as more radical than his "moderate" predecessor, shrugs his shoulders at such allegations. In conversation with Chindu Sreedharan at his home near Ernakulam, he sought to project his part as "secular" and "progressive," steadfastly denying involvement in all the fundamentalist activities it has been accused of. Excerpts from the conversation:

How did the NDF come into being?

The NDF began in 1993 in northern Kerala. The main cause was the threat and alienation that the Babri Masjid demolition caused among Kerala's Muslims. Then the Mandal Commission report opened the doors of power to the backward castes and minorities and made them conscious of their rights. This consciousness led to a lot many social organisations coming up. The onslaught against the backward people and religious minorities wasn't the kind that could be met by isolated responses. The NDF came up to give guidance to all such outfits.

What kind of cadre do you have? Is it completely Muslim?

The NDF was started by Muslim youth. So in the initial days there were only Muslims. Even now the great majority is Muslims.

What is the need of an organisation based on religion?

We feel that all repressed sections should have their own separate organisations. This is because the problems they are facing are not common. For example, the dalits. (Dr B R) Ambedkar called them the untouchables. In the job and ruling fronts they still continue as untouchables. Their basic problem is social inequality. But as far as religious minorities like Muslims are concerned, it is a question of religious identity. That is being threatened. Our main fight is against that.

They (the Hindutva forces) want to occupy our place of worship on the claim that some time long ago our ancestors destroyed their temples to build it! They want it back, they say -- and if we don't give it up they would take it forcefully!

Another reason is the religious clashes India has experienced. The Hindu fascist force called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been functioning since 1925. You have it and its associates on one hand and the un-united, unarmed, poor, confidence-less people on the other. The Muslims were major victims of the concentrated onslaught of these fascist forces. That's our major problem.

Our view is that each of these sections should unity individually. They should then fight their individual problems and progress. While they are progressing they should join up with other similar forces.

But won't organisations based on religion harm the secular fabric of the country?

Yes, they can be harmful. On the other hand, they can be supportive too. The question is not whether people are uniting on the basis of religion, but why they are uniting. The RSS, for instance, is building up an organisation based on its hate for other religions. It builds up cadres to deny other sections their rights. Such organisations are harmful to secularism. Our organisation is to fight for what has been denied to us. To get what is rightfully ours. Such organisations will only support secularism.

Is it correct, then, to say that the NDF was a direct response to the RSS?

(Pause) You cannot just say that we came up only because of the RSS. But yes, the attacks of the RSS or Hindutva fascist forces were going unchallenged. The national political parties were taking a soft stand towards such forces because they wanted votes. We could see the reflection of such forces in whichever government that came to power. We could see the reflection in the bureaucracy. We could see these forces growing. In such circumstances, there was an awakening among the victims of Hindutva fascism.

Please note here that we are not using the word 'Hindu' but Hindutva. That is because we believe that the Hindus or Hinduism does not have anything to do with it. Those involved are not real Hindus. They are endangering the interests of the society and the country, which includes Hindus and Muslims. That is how we see them. That is the message we want to convey to the people.

What is the politics of your organisation?

We have a very broad view. We do not intend to become a full-fledged political party. Nor do we intend to concentrate on supporting or fighting a full-fledged political party directly or indirectly. We see a situation in which Hindutva forces are representing power in India and Kerala. Our politics is to prevent them.

To attain that we need the unity of two sections. The first, all secular forces including political and non-political organisations. The second, all organisations of the victims of Hindutva fascism like religious minorities, linguistic minorities, backward classes etc. The politics we believe in aims at creating, though such forces, an anti-fascist power structure.

What exactly is your strategy to defend against the RSS?

The RSS sees three sections as the enemies of Mother India. The Muslims, the Christians and the Communists. They have declared an armed, physical war against these sections. It is a military organisation, an outfit that challenges the law of the land. It is not possible for the religious minorities like us to form a militant organisation to fight them. The way out is to bring about a political change. That will be the only lasting solution. What we want is to build up a cadre to create awareness among the public and bring them into our fold.

Cadre as in? Will it be like that of the RSS?

Cadre as in just a disciplined group of activists.

Whose work will be limited only to non-violent activities like creating awareness?

Yes. We cannot defeat a force like the RSS through armed combat. The only way the minorities can survive in this country is to bring about a political change. We can defeat their designs through other ways too. For example, I can say the situation has changed in Kerala since the NDF came into being. We are fighting the fascist propaganda of the Hindutva forces through our cadre. Communal clashes are created by false propaganda and misinformation. Now the NDF is there to check and prevent such activities.

So there is no question of taking up arms?


Abdul Rahman continues, "We are not lambs before a jackal."

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