Monday, August 6, 2007

Rival political fronts warily watch Mahdani's moves

RETURNING home with the halo of a living martyr after more than nine years' absence, People's Democratic Party's founder-chairman Abdul Naser Mahdani received a hero's welcome last week. Both the ruling Left Democratic Front and opposition United Democratic Front are watching his moves anxiously.

His initial statements were favourable to the LDF. He said he would continue to support the LDF government. However, he did not intend to join the front.
It was the previous LDF regime that arrested him in 1998 and sent him to Tamil Nadu for trial in the Coimbatore blast case. As an undertrial prisoner, he was denied bail and parole. He did not even get proper treatment for his many ailments.
There was, however, no bitterness in the statements he made at a press conference and a public meeting on arrival in Thiruvananthapuram.

Apparently mellowed by age and jail, he showed willingness to forgive and forget. He even offered to do what he could to help the persons being tried for the bomb attack in which he lost a leg.

Braving rain, thousands gathered on the Shamkhumukham beach for his public meeting. Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan inaugurated it, and Water Resources Minister NK Premachandran presided. UDF leaders were not present. Mahdani said he would try to bring Muslims and Dalits on a common platform and work for their empowerment.
This is not an idea that goes down well with the fronts that alternate in power in Kerala since it may cut into their vote banks.

After the public meeting, he entered a hospital to recoup his health, which was shattered during his imprisonment. Details of his plan of action will probably be known in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, some small parties like KR Gowri Amma's Jandhipathya Samrakshana Samithi have expressed readiness to join hands with him.

Mahdani, now 42, burst upon the political scene in the early 1990s when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was mobilising support for the construction of a Ram temple at the site of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. He organised the Islamic Seva Sangh (ISS) on the RSS pattern. There were clashes between RSS and ISS supporters.

The bomb attack on him took place during that period. When the Centre banned the ISS along with some other Muslim and Hindu organisations following the demolition of Babri Masjid by Viswa Hindu Parishad volunteers, Mahdani floated the People's Democratic Party. Some Hindu backward caste leaders joined the party.

The response of the Indian Union Muslim League, an ally of the Congress, to the Ayodhya outrage was muted. Mahdani's fiery speeches posed a threat to its support base. Some observers saw his arrest in 1998 as part of an LDF attempt to placate the League. The LDF was trying to woo the League at the time. In an official publication, the LDF government actually mentioned Mahdani's arrest and transfer to Tamil Nadu as one of its achievements.

The blasts that rocked Coimbatore the day Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani arrived there on an election tour left 58 dead and more than 100 injured. The Tamil Nadu police said Al Umma, a local terrorist outfit, had planned the explosions.
It claimed Mahdani was involved in the conspiracy and had supplied the explosives. The only evidence the police cited in support of the charge against Mahdani was a telephone call from his office to Al Umma chief SA Basha.

Mahdani's explanation was that the call was for a telephone interview with Basha for a publication under his control. The gross violation of human rights in Mahdani's case was discussed at length in this column two years ago. ("A man on the Malayalee conscience," The Gulf Today, April 5, 2005). As his incarceration without bail or parole continued indefinitely, there was a groundswell of sympathy for him.

Soon after the present LDF government came to power, the State Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution seeking humane treatment for him.
Leaders of all political parties except the BJP hailed Mahdani's acquittal. The BJP leaders wanted the Tamil Nadu government to go in appeal.

Responding to suggestions that he should be compensated for wrongful confinement, Mahdani asked who could compensate him for the nine years and four months he had lost. He did not propose to sue Tamil Nadu for wrongful confinement, but might think of such a step if the State government appealed his acquittal, he added. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 6, 2007.

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