Rahul Gandhi at a press interaction in the US.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi calling the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), his party's ally in Kerala, as "completely secular", has teed off a fresh war of words with the ruling BJP.
The BJP has accused him of supporting an outfit that it alleges supported the partition and continues to bear militant ideas.
"Muslim League is a completely secular party, there is nothing non-secular about the Muslim League," Rahul Gandhi had said at a press interaction in Washington DC, on being asked about Congress's alliance with the outfit in Kerala.
Until his disqualification in March, Rahul Gandhi was an MP from Wayanad in Kerala.
The IUML is an influential political force in the Malabar region of Kerala, particularly in Kozhikode and Malappuram that are adjacent to Wayanad.
Earlier, the BJP had raised questions about the support of the IUML to Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad constituency, and several BJP leaders, including UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, likening the IUML's flag to that of Pakistan.
The party has four members MPs in the Lok Sabha, one in the Rajya Sabha and 15 members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) in the 140-member house of Kerala.
BJP's IT cell head and West Bengal co-in charge Amit Malviya said, "Jinnah's Muslim League, the party responsible for India's partition, on religious lines, according to Rahul Gandhi is a 'secular' party. Rahul Gandhi, though poorly read, is simply being disingenuous and sinister here. It is also his compulsion to remain acceptable in Wayanad."
MoS for IT and Skill development Rajeev Chandrasekhar said Rahul Gandhi was living in an "alternate reality" and wants to drag others into by calling the IUML secular.
Congress leader Pavan Khera responded by saying it was the Jan Sangh that had an alliance with the Muslim League, and that only the ignorant would link IUML to Jinnah's Muslim League.
Soon after Partition, the All India Muslim League, which had led the movement for Pakistan, was disbanded. In India, the IUML came up after its founder Muhammad Ismail led the breakaway faction which emerged from the All India Muslim League (AIML) in 1948.
Muhammad Ismail, who was also called the Qaid-e-Millat (leader of the nation) remained a Rajya Sabha MP from 1952 to 1958. The party has managed to have a presence in Tamil Nadu but continues to be strong in Kerala.
Experts that NDTV spoke with said the IUML is essentially a "communitarian party, not a communal party," that is backed largely by pious and prosperous Muslims of the state, mostly involved in businesses who have also often created the biggest hurdles for the growth of radical organisations such as PFI. They however added that with recent cases of a rise of radicalism amongst Muslim youth, the IUML is kind of forced to take stronger positions.
Michael Tharakan, senior academic, historian and Chairman of the Kerala Council for Historical Research, told NDTV said the IUML has managed to be a political force in Kerala by being part of a coalition that it understands is important for its survival, and the Congress is also dependent on it.
"In Malabar region, the Congress will be nowhere without the IUML. Here the fight is essentially between the Muslim league and CPI(M). The Congress also knows they are an important ally. Only Nehru called them a dead horse; that is not true anymore," said Mr Tharakan.
While working on secular premises, sometimes, individuals may take a position that may not be fully secular, but the party has managed to be relevant in the state, he said, adding that as Kerala was also getting increasingly communalised, there were radical groups within the Muslim communities speaking in rigid voices, which also puts the IUML in a dilemma of sorts. "They have managed somehow till now, but they have to be careful."
"They have a natural constituency. The Muslim community in the Malabar region of Kerala, the northern party is large. They also understand coalition politics and know they cannot survive only as Muslim league because the name itself suggests their differences with working with the larger community.
Famous author MG Radhakrishnan, in his writings on the IUML, has said that the party has demonstrated how to work and wield power too, within the secular political mainstream, and stood up for the legitimate rights of the Muslim community without letting it be ghettoized or appear threatening to the majority community.
He said the party has also campaigned against the extremist forces growing within the community and kept them within its margins and has significantly contributed to Kerala's Muslim community growing economically, educationally, socially, and demographically.
Experts emphasise on the South Indian character of the IUML and say it is significant because the Muslim community in the South had some fundamental differences from the Muslim community in the North, mainly because Islam largely spread through trade, and not invasions in the South.