M.I. Shanavas, MP from Wayanad and one of the three State working presidents of the Congress, who died on Wednesday morning, was the party's poster boy among the Muslims, who make up a fourth of Kerala’s electorate.
With his death, the Congress has lost a strong link to the Muslim community, particularly at a time when the party is consciously projecting a soft Hindutva face pan-India. He was the party’s bridge to dozens of Muslim political, social, religious and cultural organisations.
Irrespective of their animosity to one another, Sunni, Jamaat and Mujahid sects kept cordial relations with him and Mr. Shanavas facilitated the party's gaining political foothold in each of these rival groups.
And, Muslim political parties, from the Indian Union Muslim League to the Popular Front, who always fought among themselves, found him helpful in conveying their views on various issues to the Congress leadership. His debating skills and constant presence on TV channels made him endearing to the educated middle class in the Muslim community. “Unlike other Muslim leaders in the Congress,” Fazal Ghafoor, president of the Muslim Educational Society, says “Mr. Shanavas did not downplay his Muslim identity to please senior leaders.”
The Congress party used Mr. Shanavas's clout with Muslim organisations as well as the grassroots to its advantage, particularly during the elections.
He also helped to smooth the relationship between the Congress and its coalition partner, the IUML.
When, in September, M.M. Hassan was replaced by Mullappally Ramachandran as the State party chief, the Congress top brass made Mr. Shanavas one of the three working presidents.
Now that Mr. Shanavas is gone, the Congress has lost its vital party link to the Muslim community.
This is a double whammy at a time when the Congress in Kerala is increasingly being identified with the Hindus against the background of the Sabarimala row.