'People are losing their freedom to eat, speak, write and practise their religion.'
'All that is said in the Constitution has been taken away.'
'Does every Muslim or Christian or Hindu have to say I am a patriot every morning and repeat it in the afternoon and at night?'
Dr M K Muneer of the Indian Union Muslim League is the social welfare and panchayat raj minister in Kerala's United Democratic Front government. He became a popular leader in the state when he built roads as the minister for public works in the A K Antony and previous Oommen Chandy ministries.
This doctor is also a singer, cartoonist and writer. His late father C H Mohammed Koya is a legendary figure in Kerala politics, someone who was elected to the IUML's national council in 1951. Mohammed Koya, education minister in the first E M S Namboodiripad ministry, was chief minister himself for a brief while in 1979.
Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com caught up with Dr Muneer after 9 pm in the midst of a candidate's meeting after the day's campaigning in the Kozhikode South constituency.
Your father has been associated with the Indian Muslim League from a very young age and was a minister in various ministries when you were growing up. Were you attracted to politics as a child?
I was not attracted to politics, but I was very curious about political happenings in the state. When I was growing up, my father used to contest all the elections and before the results were announced, I would write down the names of all the candidates of both the UDF and LDF (Left Democratic Front) and wait for the results.
I still remember listening to the radio and noting down the number of votes each candidate got in my book.
I also drew cartoons of political personalities including my father. I used to be critical of even my father. But he took it in his stride and encouraged me to continue my hobby. I used to read every bit of political news so that I could draw cartoons on every incident.
You went to study medicine...
I had absolutely no plans to enter politics then. My father also did not encourage me, he wanted me to pursue my studies. Of course, I was in the Muslim Students Federation and a student organisational worker, but not with an aim to be in politics.
All these activities ended when I went to Bangalore to study medicine. I had to come back to Kerala when my father passed away in 1983. Because of the love the party had for my father, they wanted me to continue his legacy.
Is it not dynastic politics?
No, it was compulsion. In fact, the party went to my mother and asked if she would permit me to join politics.
My mother said she wanted me to finish my medical studies and only if the party allowed me to do so, would she agree. The party was ready to let me continue my studies.
The then Kerala government took a decision to bring me back so that I could continue my studies at the Calicut Medical College.
Why did you agree to be in politics?
If I had my way, I would have been away from politics.
But when the party compelled me, I thought it was my duty to obey the seniors and not be disrespectful to my father.
Was it difficult studying medicine and also being a politician?
It was tough. I had to contest corporation polls when I was the final year. I won and perhaps for the first time, the councillor also attended classes at the medical college.
In 1991, when I was 29, I stood for the assembly elections from the Kozhikode constituency. It so happened that my marriage was also fixed then.
On the day of my nikaah, I got information that Rajiv Gandhi would be coming to Kozhikode. Soon after the nikaah, I rushed to be with him on stage. So the wedding reception went on at my place without me, the bridegroom!
You have observed your father as a politician from your childhood. From the perspective of a Muslim leader, do you see any difference in the kind of politics that was practised then and that is practised today?
Politics has changed immensely, so also society. My father was home minister, education minister and chief minister, but he was never portrayed as a Muslim leader. People didn't see any communal angle in politics then.
Nobody had the caste or religious identity then. When I was studying, I didn't know what caste or religion my classmates belonged to.
Slowly, society started getting polarised. It has reached such a situation that everybody uses caste and religious identity all the time.
In politics, a candidate is chosen based on his caste and religion. Political parties first analyse the Muslim or Christian votes in an area, and only after that they choose a candidate.
In a Hindu area, they try to find out whether Nairs or Ezhavas or Vishwakarmas or Nadars form the majority there.
Even the Marxist party, which boasts about secularism, selects a candidate based on caste and religion.
Even when they support an Independent candidate, it is based on caste or religion.
Luckily in Kerala, a majority of people are still secular. The Muslim League got 20 seats out of which only 7 or 8 are in areas where Muslims are in a majority. The other seats have as many Hindus and Christians.
So most of the Muslim candidates come to the assembly because Hindus and Christians -- mainly the Hindus -- vote for them.
Take my constituency. I will not win unless the Hindus vote for me. That is why I say Kerala is still a secular state despite the efforts of some to polarise the people.
I am confident that slowly, in India also, people will come back to being secular.
Do you feel that ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, there is polarisation in India?
They are trying to interfere in each and every sphere.
People are losing their freedom to eat, speak, write and practise their religion. All that is said in the Constitution has been taken away.
Many Muslim leaders say they feel insecure in India now. Do you think the Muslim community in India feels insecure today?
I am not saying Muslims are insecure, but there is a threat all the time from the ruling party or the government.
I am an optimist and I feel that the majority of people in India are with the minorities.
When an issue concerning the minorities come up, we can see so many people coming to defend us.
Even when you take the Gujarat issue, the whole of India stood with the minorities. Human rights activists and the media were also with the victims.
Still, the media has not shown any leaning towards the Right or Left, they are on the human side.
When the media is not with them (the right wing forces), the secular forces are not with them (the right wing forces) and human rights activists are not with them (the right wing forces), the minorities in India do not have to feel insecure.
Asaduddin Owaisi, the Hyderabad MP, says he will not say Bharat Mata Ki Jai.
As a Muslim leader, how do you react?
Why do we need such exhibition on patriotism?
Does every Muslim or Christian or Hindu have to say I am a patriot every morning and repeat it in the afternoon and at night?
A person should feel like a patriot without saying anything, a person should be able to look like an Indian through his body language.
Nobody should tell another person that he is doubtful about the other person's patriotic feelings and that he should say Bharat Mata Ki Jai or Jai Hind to prove his patriotism. Why should there be any compulsion for anything?
As a human being, I should have the right to not say something also.
As a Muslim, do you feel of late you are expected to prove your patriotism and love for the country all the time?
Yes, that kind of an atmosphere has been created. For example, when an India-Pakistan cricket match is going on and a Pakistan player hits a six, people often look at a Muslim to gauge his expression.
You should understand that inside the mind of every person who lives here, there is an Indian. How can you say that a person living in India is not an Indian?
Our leader Quaid-E-Milleth Mohammed Isamil Sahib was in the Constituent Assembly that framed the Constitution, so I must be the first to show allegiance to the Constitution.
During the India-China war, Jawaharlal Nehru asked for putr daan (sacrifice of a son) and the first letter was written by Isamil Sahib.
That is the kind of history we have, integrating in India.
If I am a follower of Isamil Sahib, there is no need for me to say every morning that I love India and I am part of India.
I must add that the kind of love and respect I get here does not make me feel insecure at all even for a moment.
There are many extremists in the Muslim community...
I know there are extreme elements in the community and they are in a way responsible for the present situation. They make things easy for the fascist forces to react.
Here in Kerala, we strictly stand against the extreme organisations that come up and say tit for tat. That is not what Islam teaches us. Islam teaches us only peace.
So the misinformation of Islam through these fundamental organisations is also making it easy for polarisation.
Islamophobia is happening all over the world...
This is also because of the extreme elements in the religion.
Now it is easy for anyone with an anti-Muslim mindset to say this is Islam. Whatever is showcased in the world is not the real Islam. Islam doesn't allow anyone to kill another human being or even cut trees.
I don't believe that Islamic State is the protector of Islam. Islamic State is not involved in the fight between Israel and Palestine while they are bombing innocent people all over the world.
They want to make Islamophobia more intense by attacking Christians in the UK, Europe etc.
E K Nayanar, the late Marxist leader and former chief minister, described Malappuram (the Muslim majority district in Kerala) as 'mini-Pakistan'...
It was a very dangerous statement to make. It shows that the Communist party can use the communal card for political mileage.
Even (CPI-M leader) V S Achuthanandan said students in Malappuram pass only because they copy. These are very irresponsible statements.
Malappuram is a success story and the most peaceful place in Kerala now.
The people are so enthusiastic that every new programme is first launched in Malappuram and they make it a success story.
This district achieved 100 per cent literacy and 100 per cent e-literacy first.
80 per cent of students in professional colleges are girls. Most of the state rank holders are from Malappuram.
If you look at the condition of Muslims in India, you see that they remain poor and backward. Who is responsible for Muslims not moving ahead?
I feel that Muslims do not have good leadership outside Kerala. The leaders are not concentrating on education.
Here in Kerala when we are talking about post-graduate and professional courses, there (outside Kerala, youg Muslims) they are not even provided with good primary education.
If the leadership concentrates on education, most of the problems we face can be solved.
Do you feel Muslims are still being used as vote banks?
Many Muslim leaders used to sell the votes of Muslims in exchange for power. If there was a proper leadership that could guide the people to have a good education, these people also can be a part of the democratic system.
It is a historic blunder that is happening there.
Coming to the present assembly elections, the image of the government of which you are a part is badly hit because of the many corruption charges against it.
It is false propaganda. If you take the bar issue, after we have closed all the bars, obviously all the bar owners are against the government.
You take the solar issue. Why are they against the chief minister and other ministers? Because they didn't get any favour from the government.
If the business had flourished, they would have supported the government. So only those who didn't get any favour from the government are against us.
It is a pity that the Left is using the words of some discredited people to attack the UDF.
I am very positive about the UDF coming back to power because of the developmental programmes the government has implemented. I
I can talk about the kind of work I have done as the social welfare minister. I am sure it will have a Butterfly Effect.