Why IUML picked SC lawyer Beeran as Rajya Sabha candidate

Indian Union Muslim League’s decision to field Supreme Court lawyer Haris Beeran as a candidate for Rajya Sabha came after a week-long intense debate which spilt over beyond the party’s decision-making circle. A section favouring Beeran even prepared internal campaign materials. Sources said the material cited the performance of Rajya Sabha’s lawyer-members, Congress’ P Chidambaram, Vivek Tankha and Kapil Sibal in the House to push for Beeran’s case.

To buttress their arguments they also said Rajya Sabha has now become an important battleground where Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh, Raghav Chadha and Trinamool Congress’ Saket Gokhale leading the opposition attack against the ruling NDA’s legislative supremacy. “Advocate Beeran with his years of experience in the Supreme Court is expected to do this job better than any other contenders.”

In opposition was Muslim Youth League, the IUML’s youth wing. MYL’s national leadership has been visiting various north Indian states with the aim of expanding the party base beyond Kerala especially where the community was facing violence from the Sangh Parivar. Top contender from the MYL was VK Fyzal Babu, its general secretary. It was cited that if a youth leader became an MP, he could attract more youngsters to the party.

However, party state president Syed Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal, who’s said to have already made up his mind in favour of Beeran, dug in. It’s not clear whether the complaints against the low performance of IUML MPs in the last decade have influenced Thangal’s decision.

There were backlashes against PK Kunhalikutty’s non-attendance during the voting when the government pushed the crucial Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018. In 2017 August, Kunhalikutty and Rajya Sabha MP PV Abdul Wahab also missed the vice-presidential voting between NDA’s Venkaiah Naidu and the opposition’s Gopal Krishna Gandhi.

Moreover, there’s a concern about the decreasing number of Muslim MPs in the parliament. From 49 in 1980, the number now stands at 24 ( 18th Lok Sabha) , just 4.42% of the strength of Lok sabha.

Legislative activism
While parties with larger stakes in the government formation don’t take Rajya Sabha as seriously as Lok Sabha,

Haris Beeran is a Supreme Court lawyer. File photo: Manorama/Rahul R Pattom

Muslim League historically viewed both the Houses with the same importance as avenues of legislative activism where they can safeguard the community’s Constitutional rights. Two of its top leaders–‘Quaid-E-Millath’ M Muhammad Ismail (1952 –58) and Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait (1960 – 66) began their parliamentary careers in the Upper House.

In the Lok Sabha, one of the early IUML MPs soon after Independence, B Pocker Sahib, a good lawyer himself, successfully persuaded Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to remove the provisions antagonistic to the community’s interests in the Muslim Personal Law.

In the later years, the IUML sent Sait and GM Banatwala to Lok Sabha consecutively from Kerala constituencies. It paid off. During the ‘Shah Bano’ issue, Banatwala presented a private bill which later the Rajiv Gandhi government adopted Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Divorce Act, 1986. Generations of party ideologues celebrated these “lessons” on how just two Kerala MPs upheld the Muslim causes at the national level and sometimes even pre-empted motions detrimental to the community’s faith and interests.

The IUML MPs’ impactful interventions in the law-making process started early at the beginning of the nation, says Muhammed Ashique NP, a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Political Studies.

“Citizenship rights, now under the attention due to CAA-2019 and NRC, have always been the focus of League MPs,” Ashique said, referring to the Nehru Government’s permit system which denied Muslims rights to return to their homes across the newly partitioned Indian borders. “The current NRC updates have its lineage to it. Mahmood Ali Baig fought against it in the Constituent Assembly.”

“Later, on the Assam crisis of the 1970s and 80s, the Banatwala-Sait duo engaged Congress ministries to lessen the discriminatory impacts of a series of legislations’ including the repeatedly amended Illegal Migration Detection Laws of the 1970s, the Citizenship Amendment Act 1985 and the Assam Accord 1985.”

Ashique says minority educational rights, involving Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia also were the “staple” of IUML’s legislative business. These MPs have also fought against the police excesses of many laws such as TADA, POTA, AFSPA, UAPA, and NSA.

Though vulnerable to judicial and legislative review, the IUML’s efforts with the 1991 Places of Worship Act remain the only protective cover to any religious structures in India.

The decline of IUML’s influence
But for all this history in the parliament, IUML’s influence in the Houses began to wane over time. Ashique observes the decline of the Congress era and the rise of far-right jeopardised things for IUML.

“Legislative negotiations ceased to yield sympathetic responses, and an India-wide Muslim coalition became a thing of the past,” he adds.

While Sait and Banatwala continued for a while in the Lok Sabha, the party’s Rajya Sabha candidates from Kerala were very often ‘honorary’.

“Though Kerala cadres are somewhat relieved by the party’s survival here, they are disappointed with the diminished national stature of the League, which has fully shrunken into the Congress alliance without any independent recognition. Their party is essential and the lone Muslim group in the INDIA alliance, but still without any rightful share,” Ashique concludes.

Fewer MPs means they have to learn more, travel more, and organise more, says Syed Ashraf Thangal, the general secretary of Grace Educational Association, the donor organisation of C H Mohammed Koya Chair for Studies on Developing Societies at the University of Calicut. “Resource-starved Muslims don’t have the luxury of doing unlimited street agitations to earn their rights. Their only battleground is the parliament floor, that’s what IUML’s founding fathers taught us,” he added.

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