Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s iconic church that was recently converted into a mosque by Turkish government was one of the resonating issues in the recent local body polls in Kerala. The conversion of a church into a mosque in a far away land altered the political discourse in Kerala, an impact that was seen in the recent polls.
The 1,500-year-old Orthodox Christian cathedral, the largest Christian church of the eastern Roman Empire, was converted into a mosque by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this year. The erstwhile museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was made at the backdrop of a court order nullifying the earlier status of the cathedral as a ‘museum’.
The occupation of a church by Islamists in Turkey found a massive resonance back home in Kerala, with Islamic organisations such as Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) had issued an open declaration of support to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to convert the museum into a mosque.
Soon after the declaration, the IUML had praised Erdogan for his act. Panakkad Sayyid Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal, the state committee member and Malappuram district president of IUML, in an article in the party’s mouthpiece Chandrika Daily, had welcomed Erdogan’s decision, stating that the freedom to practice Islam is restricted in many European countries, which went against Erdogan for his controversial move.
“Their school of secularism is hollow. They are the same people who converted around 350 mosques in Europe into Churches and Theaters,” he argued in his article. He said Erdogan’s government provides freedom of worshipping to all religions, and not only to Islam.
Meanwhile, CPI(M) was quick to respond to IUML’s support for the Turkish government. Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, its politburo member and then state secretary had questioned the Muslim League saying, how can they now oppose the BJP government’s move to construct a Ram temple where a mosque once stood if they support Erdogan for a similar kind of action. Ironically, CPI(M) had to target IUML the ally of Congress party in Kerala, for its departure from the party’s secular identity.
“Jamaat-e-Islami is an organisation which supports the Turkey government. With the Muslim League leader hailing the conversion of Sophia Hagia into a mosque, the link between Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami has come to the fore. Congress has decided to ally with Welfare Party, the political wing of Jamaat-e-Islami and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of Popular Front of India. What is the stand of Congress towards the Muslim League approach of acknowledging the act of Turkey ruler?” Kodiyeri had asked.
Interestingly, the open support to Turkey’s belligerent action by IUML had irked the Christians and other ‘secularists’ in the state. The Catholic Church, which had backed the Congress and UDF for long, had expressed its resentment over UDF’s stand on the Hagia Sophia issue.
Kerala Catholic Bishops Council, in a statement, said, “Before glorifying the encroachment of Hagia Sophia Church, Muslim League leader Sadiq Ali should have learned history. To justify Erdogan would be a liability of political Islamists in Kerala. That should not be at the cost of endangering the future of Indian secular democracy and peaceful co-existence of religions. There is danger in unilaterally interpreting history.”
Congress party’s affinity to Islamic parties helping Communists in Kerala
The increasing affinity of the Congress party towards radical Islam, backed by Muslim organisations’ firm control on the UDF, has now cost political support for them in Kerala. The left-coalition has now able to convince the voters in Kerala that the Congress and its allies have turned ‘communal’ by consenting to decisions taken by Islamic parties such as IUML and Jamaat-e-Islami.
Recently, after the local body elections in Kerala, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had seized the opportunity to target Congress and its allies over its ‘communalism’ in Kerala. The Kerala Chief Minister had made a serious accusation against the Congress party saying that the party had deputed all its decision making to Muslim League (IUML).
In a Facebook post, Vijayan had said the “deplorable state of affairs” of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) was due to the “shamelessness of the Congress” to do anything for a few votes. He added, “It is a strange experience in politics for one political party to dictate who should lead another party. Such extraordinary and anti-democratic things are happening in the UDF.”
“It seemed like the League would take over the leadership of the UDF after the results of the local body elections came out. Has the League become a centre for commenting on the internal affairs of the Congress and deciding who should lead the Congress?” Vijayan asked.
In the recently held polls, the CPM-led ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) registered a significant victory against the Congress-led United Democratic Front in local body polls in the state that was held ahead of crucial Assembly polls scheduled next year. The Congress and its UDF allies, that had managed to pull off a victory in the 2019 elections in 15 seats, lost in a big way in Kerala vowing to their abject surrender for the communal politics in the state.