The soft approach of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a key constituent of the Opposition Congress-led UDF, towards the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF seems to have again come to the fore in the wake of the May 7 boat capsizal at Tanur in Malappuram, in which 22 passengers, including several children, were killed.
Amid allegations of violation of safety norms that led to the boat disaster, the Pinarayi Vijayan government announced a judicial probe into the incident.
While the Congress has alleged that the tragedy was a “state-sponsored crime”, the IUML has been maintaining a silence over the incident, despite the point that it happened in the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district, which is known to be the party’s stronghold.
Although there have been various reports indicating that the boat capsizal occurred allegedly due to violations of various safety regulations and norms, the IUML has shied away from hitting out at the Vijayan government over the loss of lives in the disaster that convulsed the party’s turf.
In the 2016 Assembly election, the IUML had lost from the Tanur constituency, which marked its first defeat in the seat since 1957. A former Congress leader and businessman V Abdurahiman had then won from the seat while contesting as a CPI(M)-backed Independent candidate. Abdurahiman retained the seat in the 2021 election, going on to become the minister for fisheries and harbour engineering in the Vijayan government.
Two days after the boat tragedy, senior Congress leader and Leader of the Opposition (LoP), V D Satheesan, alleged that the boat had been operating its illegal service with the support of minister Abdurahiman.
“It is a state sponsored tragedy. People had complained to Abdurahiman about the illegal and dangerous service, the minister had reacted in a coarse manner. The boat owner had got every support from the ruling parties for the illegal service,” the LoP charged.
The BJP has also slammed the government over the row, with state party president K Surendran charging that minister Abdurahiman and tourism minister Mohammed Riyas were aware of the “illegal boat service”. “The boat operator enjoyed political patronage. That is why the officials did not act against the service. These people are responsible for the tragedy. The issue cannot be solved with Chief Minister Vijayan conducting discussion with IUML leaders. Vijayan is trying to settle the issue after meeting with IUML leaders,” he said.
A day after the disaster, Vijayan had rushed to Tanur to pay his respects to the deceased passengers. Almost all senior IUML leaders, led by state party president Sayyid Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal, were present there. After holding a review meeting, when Vijayan announced the judicial probe into the disaster, he was flanked by Thangal, with several cabinet ministers standing behind them.
A section of the IUML cadre has been upset that the party leadership did not take on the LDF government for its alleged failure to “ensure safety of boat passengers or corruption behind the tourism venture”. In a bid to address their concerns, Thangal wrote in the party daily “Chandrika” on Thursday: “Politics is not above humanism. The party does not want to make political capital out of this tragedy. The government has announced a judicial probe. Let us wait for justice.”
However, reflecting the simmering resentment within the party ranks against the IUML leadership’s stand on the issue, the party’s youth wing, Youth League, on Friday took out a march to the office of minister Abdurahiman at Tanur. The march, led by Youth League state secretary P K Firoz, demanded a probe into the alleged deal between the boat operator and the minister.
Despite being the second major constituent of the UDF, the IUML has steered clear of various campaigns against the Vijayan government in recent months, leaving the Congress to go after the Left dispensation on its own steam.
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