Monday, August 31, 2009

Murder exposes convergence of crime, business and politics


WHILE refusing bail to a notorious goon involved in eight cases last week, Kerala high court judge KT Sankaran observed that if the government does not act decisively against such criminal elements, the rule of law will collapse and anarchy prevail.

The judge's warning came as the media, covering the murder of a young businessman, was treating the public to sensational accounts of links between politicians and criminals, and spokesmen of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the opposition were claiming the boot was on the other leg.

Paul M. George, 32, of the Rs200-billion George M. Muthoot group, was stabbed to death shortly after midnight on Aug.21 while driving from one of his resorts to another.

Founded by a small-time financier 122 years ago, the Muthoot group has now branched out into other areas, including hospitality, but money-lending remains its core activity. Paul was reportedly involved in a drug case in Delhi a few years ago.

Paul was driving a car belonging to one of his friends. He had instructed his driver to collect the key of the resort and follow.

The driver found him and one of his companions, Manu, lying on the road, bleeding. He took them to the hospital, where Paul was declared dead.

A team headed by Vinson M. Paul, Inspector General of Police, Ernakulam Range, began investigations immediately. Three days later, the IGP told the media the murder mystery had been solved. It was a case of road rage, not premeditated murder, he said.

According to the IGP's story, Paul George, who was drunk, knocked down a motor cyclist and drove off without stopping. Members of a criminal gang witnessed the accident. Some of its members intercepted the car after a chase and one of them, Kari Satheesan, who too was drunk, stabbed Paul with an S-shaped knife.

Police arranged for Satheesan to confess to the killing before media persons but did not allow him to take questions.

The media shot holes in the IGP's theory and showed that the police was still clueless on some crucial aspects of the case including the disappearance of three of Paul's companions on the fateful journey.

Two of them have been identified as Omprakash and Puthenpalam Rajesh, both goons of Thiruvananthapuram, against whom arrest warrants are pending. The third person involved in the vanishing trick was a television actress, whose identity has not been revealed.

Apparently after the stabbing, the trio drove away in the car, leaving the injured Paul and Manu bleeding on the road. The vehicle broke down at Chavara and was abandoned. How they got away from there is unclear.

By early morning the car was in police custody. However, men posing as automobile mechanics were able to remove the trio's bags from it.

On Sunday, amid speculation that Omprakash and Rajesh had escaped to Dubai, the police announced a reward of Rs100,000 for information about their whereabouts.
Media reports suggested that the goons escaped with the help of political patrons and police officials. They also dropped hints about the goons' proximity to a minister's son.

Embarrassed by the reports, Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asked the media to stop weaving tales and leave the investigation to the police. Two days later, he went one step further and said his son was not connected with the case in any way.
CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan asked the media to stop making insinuations. He asked why they were not talking about Paul's antecedents and his association with goons.

Drawing a saffron herring across the trail, he said the S-shaped knife used by the killer was a weapon used by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh members.

The RSS responded by producing an old membership card of the Democratic Youth Federation of India in Satheesan's name and another of the Karshaka Thozhilali Union (farm labourers' body) in his mother Vilasini's name. Both organisations are CPI-M affiliates.

Thiruvananthapuram district CPI-M secretary Kadakampalli Surendran alleged that Omprakash was close to K. Sudhakaran, Congress MP from Kannur. Sudhakaran retorted that Omprakash and the home minister's son were like twins.

High media interest in a case of this kind is natural. As happens so often these days, its coverage tended to be sensationalistic.

Pinarayi Vijayan's intervention was a calculated attempt for a trade-off between the police's weaknesses and the party's with the media's.

Will Paul George's killers be brought to justice? The answer to this question must wait. But one thing can be said with certainty. His murder has exposed the convergence of crime, business and politics in the state. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 30, 2009.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Parties evade basic issue in Asean pact debate


A furious debate is raging in Kerala over the merits and demerits of the free trade agreement which India signed with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) this month. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which leads the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), has mounted a campaign against the agreement, saying it will ruin the state's agricultural sector.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan has accused the prime minister of not honouring the promise to consult the state government before signing it.

Former chief minister Oommen Chandy, who has taken upon himself the task of defending the agreement, signed by the Congress-led central government, claims it contains enough provisions to safeguard the interests of the state's farmers.

Asean, the 10-nation group which accounts for about 10 per cent of world commerce, is already India's fourth largest trading partner. Last year India-Asean bilateral trade stood at US$40 billion. It is expected to go up to $50 billion by next year. The agreement, limited to trade in goods, covers 12,169 items.

They include coconut oil, pepper, coffee, tea and rubber, which are among Kerala's major commercial crops. Since Asean countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam produce these items or substitutes at lower costs than Kerala, free import will hurt the state's farmers by bringing down prices. After China signed a free trade agreement with Asean, it was imperative for India to follow suit.

To protect the interests of the state's farmers and fishermen, the government, through negotiations spread over six years, persuaded Asean to place some items on a "negative" list. Duties on these items are to be reduced in stages over the next 10 years.

To begin with, 303 items have been placed in the negative list, which is subject to annual review. They include copra, coconut, cashew, cardamom, ginger, rubber, rice, tapioca, sardine, shrimp, crab, milk and milk products, banana and pineapple.

The Asean pact has emerged as a major bone of contention between the CPI-M and the Congress, the chief rivals in the struggle for power in the state. As usual, the two parties are trying to score debating points, hoping to convert them into votes. The CPI-M, which is yet to recover from the crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, sees the Asean pact as an ideal substitute for the issue of globalisation, which no longer yields electoral dividends.

The Kerala Karshaka Sangham, a farmers' organisation controlled by the CPI-M, has called for boycott of Asean products.

Oommen Chandy has charged that in opposing the Asean agreement the CPI-M is serving the interests of China. He claims that the "negative" list is a unique feature of Asean's pact with India and that this was introduced to protect Kerala's interests.

The latter's claim cannot be taken at face value as the list contains items like apple and orange, which have no relevance to the state. He points out that the agreement gives Kerala 10 years' time to make its farms products competitive.

The Centre has offered help to rebuild the agricultural sector in this period. Rubber is the only item in the negative list in which Kerala has higher productivity than the Asean countries. Experts feel the state cannot improve productivity and profitability of other crops to a point where it can withstand competition from the Asean countries within a decade.

They also doubt its ability to benefit from the central schemes designed to help the farmers. They point out that, although the Centre has raised the support price of copra to a record level, coconut growers are suffering as the state government failed to undertake large-scale procurement.

With the CPI-M and the Congress approaching the issue from the standpoint of possible political gains, a fundamental question that begs for has not come up in the debate: why is it that agriculture in the state has been continually declining? The short answer to the question is that over the years rising wages and falling productivity made farming uneconomic.

Successive governments, headed by the leaders of the two fronts, were unable to reverse the trend. The state's growers account for 90 per cent of the country's rubber output. The Rubber Board's promotional effort helped them to achieve a high level of productivity. Boards set up for the promotion of other crops like coconut and spices have not been able to match its performance.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Kerala ruling front's attempt to refurbish image

Kerala ruling front's attempt to refurbish image
The induction of three ministers in Kerala's Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, scheduled on Monday, is part of a face-lifting exercise aimed at recovering ground lost in the three years it has been in office.
The LDF came to power amid high hopes in 2006. It's performance so far has been poor. Even the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which heads the coalition, has been forced to acknowledge that the government has not been able to rise to the expectations of the people. The LDF's performance in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year was disastrous. Its share of seats came down from 19 to four.
Since local bodies elections are due next year, the CPI-M has decided to act quickly to refurbish the government's image. Of the three ministers, two are experienced politicians while one is a green horse.
PJ Joseph, leader of the Kerala Congress faction known by his name, was in the LDF government when it took office but had to resign in the wake of an allegation of sexual harassment. He returns to the ministry after being cleared by a court. When Joseph stepped down in the wake of the charge, the party nominated TU Kuruvila as its representative in the cabinet. He had to bow following allegations of involvement in a land scam.
Mons Joseph was then inducted into the government with a view to keeping the seat warm for PJ Joseph. A Tamil Nadu court, which heard the case against PJ Joseph, acquitted him.
Since the complainant did not appeal against the verdict, the way was clear for his return to the government.
The CPI-M decided to take the opportunity to bring the Congress (Socialist) leader Ramachandran Kadannappalli and Janata Dal (Gowda) member Jose Thettayil also into the government.
By virtue of his seniority as a politician, Ramachandran Kadannappalli was entitled to become minister when the LDF took office. He missed the opportunity as the CPI-M decided not to give representation to one-man parties. The decision was part of a calculated move to limit the role of small constituents who were weilding undue influence in the front.
The CPI-M's decision to accommodate him in the government now suggests that it realises that it needs the support of the small parties, too, to overcome the situation resulting from the rout in the Lok Sabha elections. Jose Thettayil earned the minister's post by remaining steadfast in his support for the LDF when MP Veerendrakumar, state president of Janata Dal (Secular) locked horns with CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.
After the CPI-M took away his Kozhikode Lok Sabha seat for a candidate of its own, Veerendrakumar and his supporters worked against LDF candidates. The Janata Dal's national leadership disowned them.
They are now expected to join the Congress-led United Democratic Front. For a long time, there was very little change in the composition and relative strength of the LDF and the United Democratic Front (UDF), the main contenders for power at the state level who have been favoured by the electorate by turns in Assembly elections.
To the extent that the Veerendrakumar faction is the larger of the two formations resulting from the breakup of the Janata Dal (S), the LDF appears to be a net loser. This may well be what prompted the CPI-M to be show greater solicitude to the small partners. The ministerial changes are unlikely to lead to any improvement in the performance of the LDF government since the causes of its poor record remain unaddressed.
Although things have been quiet in the CPI-M, since Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan's removal from the politburo, no one believes that the bane of sectarianism is over. As a rule, the LDF has had an edge over the UDF in local bodies elections.
However, the reverses the CPI-M suffered in the recent panchayat (local bodies) byelections suggest that there has been erosion in its support at the grassroots, which is attributable, at least partly, to the disenchantment in the rank and file resulting from the sectarianism.
Against this background, the LDF proposal to provide 50% reservation to women in the panchayat elections can be seen as a masterstroke designed to boost its image among the fair sex.
The CPI-M was the major beneficiary of the statutory 33% reservation for women in the local bodies. By putting up more women candidates, it may be able to improve its overall position by enlarging its support base among women. – Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 17, 2009.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Remembering Independence Day 1947

In a speech which is now a part of political lore, Jawaharlal Nehru said on the night of August 14-15, 1947 that India, which had made a tryst with destiny long years ago, was redeeming its pledge, “not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially”.

He added, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

As the clock struck 12, loud cheers broke out in the august hall. The state-owned All India Radio carried the proceedings of the house live to the far corners of the country. Knots of people gathered around wireless sets in the towns and heard the inspiring words of the man who was to lead them for the next 17 years.

“The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour?” he asked, and answered the question himself. “To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.”

Not many peasants and workers could have heard the promise of freedom and opportunity that the Prime Minister-designate held out to them as the sun of freedom rose at midnight. Few among them were within hearing distance of a radio, which was a rare, expensive commodity in those days.

As India woke up to life and freedom, most Indians were probably asleep in their modest homes or on footpaths, as on other nights. The next day’s newspapers focused their attention sharply on the grand ceremonies in New Delhi and lesser ones under official auspices elsewhere in the country. It is not possible to reconstruct from their accounts how the ordinary people, especially those living in far-flung villages, greeted freedom at midnight.

The best picture we have is a fictional account of the night’s events in a Kerala village, provided by eminent Malayalam writer Takazhi Sivasankara Pillai in his mammoth novel “Kayar”:

All lights were out. All homes fell asleep. The Party should have celebrated this day. The last Britisher boards the steamer to go home at midnight tonight. Isn’t that something? Isn’t the working class getting any rights tonight?

Surendran walked. He felt a heaviness inside. All working class homes were asleep. Did they not know that India was becoming free tonight?

He walked through the lanes. People were awake in some houses here and there. Maybe they habitually sleep late. Decorations were going on in two or three houses. Festoons were being put up in the village office. Surendran thought of going up to the police station. In the darkness he saw a figure moving in the oppose direction. It was Manikantan.

Surendran recognized Manikantan. And Manikantan recognized Surendran.

Manikantan said a little excitedly: ‘Large-scale decorations are going on at the police station’.

That was big news. Surendran said: ‘At 12 the Tricolour will go up there.’

‘Yes, yes, the cops will salute the flag at 12.’

Manikantan moved away, walking hurriedly as though there was some urgent work to do. And Surendran went to see the police station. As the clock ticked towards freedom, two men were running around in that village. They were full of enthusiasm. The freedom which generations had dreamed of was becoming a reality. Could those who lived a hundred years ago have known that after sunset on the night of August 14, 1947, at 12 o’ clock sharp, India’s flag will be fluttering in the sky? They might have inquisitively wondered when that day would come. This generation had impatiently waited for this day. It was we who had the good fortune to decide that moment.

Time was not moving. That was how Manikantan felt. There was still time left. Fat, unmoving moments.

From where should one see the National Flag going up? The biggest preparations were at the police station. It would be fun to watch uniformed, gun-wielding policemen salute the flag. Might as well see how they salute the flag. Once they had ripped a Tricolour with bullets. It was from that flag that the present one had come.

Yes, that was the place. Some people had already gathered there. Shouldn’t the whole village be there -- men, women and children? Why weren’t they all there?

The village where Takazhi’s story is set is one that has felt the impact of political activity. Manikantan and Surendran who wander rather aimlessly through the village streets that night are young men who are part of two major political streams. Few villages in the country had probably felt the impact of politics to the same degree.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Muraleedharan looking for a way out of wilderness

Gulf Today

From what appeared to be a win-win situation to suspension in a state of limbo, former state minister and Kerala Pradesh Congress (KPCC) president, K. Muraleedharan has travelled a long way in a short time. Son of former chief minister K.Karunakaran, he had risen quickly in the party after his induction as chief of the Seva Dal.

During the prolonged faction fight with Karunakaran, AK Antony helped him on more than one occasion to move up, presumably as a peace gesture to his rival. It was with Antony's support that he first became a member of parliament and later state party president.

As Antony moved to New Delhi and emerged as a confidante of Sonia Gandhi, Karunakaran felt that he was not receiving the attention due to him as a Congressman of long standing, who had stood by Indira Gandhi when the Antony faction had broken away.

Before the Lok Sabha elections of 2004, Muraleedharan became minister for power, striking a deal with Oommen Chandy, who had succeeded Antony as chief minister. Karunakaran was unhappy as the deal was negotiated behind his back. In a bid to appease Karunakaran, the Congress nominated him and his daughter, Padmaja Venugopal, as candidates for the Lok Sabha.

Muraleedharan, who had to enter the Assembly to secure his position as minister, contested for that house. All three lost.

The electorate, taking a dim view of the developments in the Congress, resorted to wholesale slaughter of the party's candidates. The old war horse that he is, Karunakaran was not ready to take the defeat lying down.

With an eye to the Assembly elections of 2006, he walked out of the Congress with Muraleedharan and floated a party, styled as the Democratic Indira Congress-Karunakaran (DIC-K).

They hoped to find a place in the Left Democratic Front, led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which was widely tipped to win. CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan was ready to welcome the DIC-K into the fold, but VS Achuthanandan, who has been pursuing a corruption charge against Karunakaran, set his face against any truck with his outfit.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) too did not want the DIC-K in the front. Left in the lurch, the DIC-K decided to go it alone. It's presence made no difference to the prospects of the two fronts, which constitute the political mainstream.

The LDF romped home with 100 seats in the 140-member Assembly. The DIC-K won just one seat.

Karunakaran and Muraleedharan, looking for a refuge, zeroed in on the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), formed by Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar who had walked out of the Congress, protesting against Sonia Gandhi's projection as prime ministerial candidate. As a party of ex-Congressmen, the NCP appeared to be a good choice.

Pawar was willing to make Muraleedharan president of the party's Kerala unit. The NCP held out the promise of new avenues before the father-son duo. It was a partner of the Congress in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which was in power at the Centre. It was also a partner of the CPI-M in the Left Democratic Front, which was in power in the state.

The NCP had two ministers at the Centre. It had no minister in the state because the CPI-M was unwilling to offer representation to parties with lone members. With the DIC-K's merger, the NCP will have two members in the Assembly and may be able to claim a cabinet post. But things did not work out that way.

The LDF said the post-merger NCP was a new outfit and it was not part of the front. The Congress was not prepared to extend its alliance with the NCP beyond Maharashtra. The duo started operating separately once again.

Karunakaran went back to the Congress after securing promise of a fair deal to his supporters. Muraleedharan stayed back in the NCP. The rout of all five candidates the NCP put up in this year's Lok Sabha elections convinced Muraleedharan that he was on a blind alley.

Last month, he invited expulsion from the NCP by publicly expressing his desire to return to the Congress. His statement set alarm bells ringing in the Congress.

Leaders of the dormant factions came together at last week's state party executive meeting to block Muraleedharan's entry. They are a formidable combination but he is hoping Antony will help him out of the wilderness.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Kerala turns VIP funerals into road shows


When Malayalam stage and screen artist Rajan P. Dev died in a Kochi hospital last week, the family announced he would be buried the next day at Karukutti, near Ankamali, 33 km north of the city. The body had to travel more than 120 km to reach the designated resting place.

From the hospital, the body was taken to his birthplace, Cherthala, 42 km south of Kochi, to enable residents of the town to pay their respects. It was then carried back to Kochi to lie in state at the Ernakulam Town Hall. From there, it was transported to his home at Karukutti for night halt. The last lap from there to the St Xavier’s Church cemetery was the shortest.

The thespian’s last journey was typical of the newly evolved Kerala practice of turning its famous sons’ funerals into veritable road shows. At every halt, members of the public had the opportunity to file past the body.

Kerala’s political establishment and media leadership recognized the immense potential of a VIP funeral when former chief minister and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader E.K. Nayanar died in New Delhi May 19, 2004. His body was kept at the A.K.G. Bhavan, the party’s headquarters, and at the Kerala House before it was flown to Thiruvananthapuram in an air force plane.

At Thiruvananthapuram, Nayanar’s body was displayed at the A.K.G. Centre, the state party office, and at the secretariat, the seat of the government. It was later taken by road to Payyambalam, near Kannur, for cremation. Such was the rush of people who turned up for a last glimpse of the leader all along the route that the 500-km-long journey took five and a half hours more than the scheduled time.

Overwhelmed by the tumultuous scenes witnessed en route, a correspondent of the party journal People’s Democracy exclaimed: “The great mass leader had become even greater after his death.”

Nayanar’s was the first VIP funeral since the dawn of the age of satellite television. The first private Malayalam channel, Asianet, was in operation when Kerala’s - and the country’s - first Communist chief minister E.M.S. Namboodiripad died in 1998. As mourners poured into his Thiruvananthapuram residence, the channel set up a camera there and started relaying the proceedings. However, in the absence of facilities for uplinking from Indian soil, the live transmission over the cable system could be seen only by viewers in the city.

By the time of Nayanar’s death, the government of India had permitted uplinking of programmes directly from India. Also, there were now several competing channels. The extensive coverage they provided helped Keralites everywhere to follow the leader’s last journey closely. The live telecasts played a big part in generating the unprecedented popular interest witnessed along the entire route of the funeral procession.

Since then the families of distinguished Keralites who have lived and died outside the state have come under official and public pressure to allow the bodies to be brought home for adulation and a funeral with state honours.

Writer and cartoonist O.V. Vijayan, who had settled down in Secunderabad after his working days in New Delhi, and musician and composer G. Devarajan, who was a long time resident of Chennai, were among those who were thus brought home to receive celebratory funerals in places they had left early in life.

Writer Kamala Surayya, who died in Pune May 31 this year, was undoubtedly the one who received the most adulation. She had lived in Kolkata and Mumbai and earned fame, writing in English under her marital name of Kamala Das and in Malayalam under the pen name of Madhavikutty, before returning to Kerala and courting controversies through words and deeds. She took the name of Kamala Surayya after embracing Islam in 1999.

Kamala had moved to Pune, where her youngest son lives, in 2007. Respecting her wish to be buried in Kerala, her sons accepted the arrangements the state government made, in consultation with the Jamaat-e-Islami, to take the body to Thiruvananthapuram for burial. The family and Jamaat officials took the body to Mumbai, where a state minister joined the accompanying party.

After giving the public an opportunity to pay their last respects to Kamala at the Kerala House in Navi Mumbai, the body was flown to Kochi. From there it was taken to Thrissur to lie in state at the office of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi. The 300-km-long journey from Thrissur to Thiruvananthapuram gave hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to pay homage. The television cameras were on all through.
Before moving to Pune, Kamala Surayya had bitterly complained that Keralites had not honoured her the way others in India and abroad had done. If only she could see the adulation showered on her posthumously she would probably acknowledge that she had misread people’s feelings.

Maybe she would also have touched off another controversy by asking whether it wouldn’t be more appropriate for bereaved people to make the journey to pay their last respects rather than for the dead to travel long distances to receive the honour.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Shihab Thangal's demise leaves a void difficult to fill

Gulf Today

Mohammad Ali Shihab Thangal of Panakkad, who passed away on Saturday, belonged to a rare breed of politicians. He headed the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Kerala's third largest political party for 34 long years, but never sought an elected office.

Old-timers remember an occasion when he filed nomination papers in an assembly election. That was as cover candidate for CH Mohammad Koya, the party's nominee. Since Koya's papers were in order, he didn't have to contest. He was not in politics at that time anyway.

On another occasion, the Muslim League wanted to send him to parliament. It proposed his name for the Rajya Sabha. The party and the front to which it belonged had sufficient strength in the Assembly to ensure his election. But he and his father, Pookkoya Thangal, who was then president of the League, rejected the suggestion.

Across Kerala's wide political spectrum, either on the right or the left, it is not possible to find another leader who was so totally free from the lure of office.
Believed to be a scion of an Arab family that traces its ancestry to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), Shihab Thangal had studied at Al Azhar and Cairo universities and returned home in 1966.

He showed no interest in politics until the party picked him for the president's post on his father's death in 1975. When the IUML was set up in 1948 in Malabar, then a part of the Madras province, there were good reasons for eyebrows to rise quizzically. For one, the organisation's name was similar to that of the All India Muslim League (AIML), which had led the successful campaign for a separate Muslim homeland in the subcontinent. For another, several of its founders had been associated with AIML.

The struggle for power between the Communist Party of India and the non-communist parties after the formation of the Kerala state in 1956 paved the way for the end of the political ostracism that the IUML faced in the early years.

By the time Shihab Thangal assumed the leadership, it was a force to reckon with in state politics, but still carried the stigma of communalism.

More a statesman than a politician, Shihab Thangal, through judicious handling of sensitive issues, steered the League away from the path of communal politics and helped it to gain recognition as part of the secular mainstream.

Instead of dealing with the problems of the Muslim community - it constitutes about a quarter of the population and is the largest single caste/religious group in the state - solely in the narrow context of their faith, he placed them in the broad context of the social, economic and educational backwardness of large sections of the population.

This made it possible to seek solutions for several problems without raising communal animosities. Shihab Thangal faced two major challenges during his long reign as the chief of the League. He faced them, sticking unwaveringly to the Islamic ideal of brotherhood.

First came the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, by Hindu fanatics to facilitate the construction of a temple dedicated to Ram, who, they believe, was born there in a remote period.

Even as some sections of the community raised shrill cries of revenge, Shihab Thangal asked his followers to ensure that communal harmony was not disrupted.
Then came two rounds of communal violence at the coastal village of Marad. Shihab Thangal exerted his influence to prevent the outbreak from spreading to other areas.

The virulent propaganda unleashed by critics, who alleged that the League was sacrificing the community's interests to enjoy the benefits of power, caused some setbacks to the party. But Shihab Thangal refused to make compromises for short-term gains.

While some parties which flaunt secular names have not been able to shed their communal image, the Muslim League has been able to gain credence as a party that upholds the secular ideal despite the religious tag in its name. The credit for this belongs entirely to Shihab Thangal

He was unique in another respect too. He had an unblemished record in public life. There have been others, too, who have commanded respect as men of integrity but none against whom there was not even a vague allegation of misdemeanour.

The tributes that flowed from all sections of the people on Shihab Thangal's demise are a measure of the regard and respect that he enjoyed cutting across political and religious lines. Truly can it be said that he has left a void that is difficult to fill. – Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 3, 2009.