When the state president of the women’s wing of the Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala praised the Bharatiya Janata Party and a local fund-raising drive organised by the saffron outfit last week, a storm predictably followed.
Within hours, 70-year-old Qamarunnisa Anwar apologised for her statement and was removed from the post of state president of the Vanitha League (the women’s wing), though she continues to be a member of the Muslim League and the chairperson of the Kerala State Social Welfare Board, a position given to her by her party three years ago. This was followed by speculation that she was planning to jump ship to the BJP.
However, in a phone interview with Scroll.in on Monday, Anwar said the thought of joining the BJP had not even crossed her mind. “My political consciousness will not allow me to take such decision,” she said.
On Thursday, after contributing to the BJP’s local fund in the Tirur constituency where she stays, Anwar told a local news channel “I understand that BJP has been growing fast in Kerala and India. I hope that party will do good things for the development of the country and its people.”
Anwar claimed that the media had blown her statements out of proportion. Anwar said contrary to what some reports indicated, she had not attended a BJP event, nor had she tried to flatter the saffron party or its leaders. “Local BJP leaders came to my home with a request to support their party’s fund collection drive,” she said. “I wanted to avoid them and told them that I don’t have any money with me. But they insisted me to contribute whatever a small amount.”
Anwar said she told them she needed time to think about making a contribution and “got approval” from senior Muslim League leader ET Mohammed Basheer. “When the BJP workers came back in the afternoon I gave them Rs 2,000. They took a photo when I handed over the money. As they were about to leave, a few television channel reporters descended on the scene and asked me my opinion about the BJP.”
Caught unawares, Anwar said, she made a “general statement”. “I told them that BJP is growing all over the country and I hoped it would use its powers to help people,” she said.
Anwar was annoyed when her statements hogged headlines. But what disturbed her most, she said, was the thought that she had put Muslim League in trouble. “As a humble worker of the Muslim League since 1991, the controversy made me sad. I never intended to put my party in trouble.”
She therefore apologised soon, hoping to put an end to the controversy, she said. But she was dismayed again when the party leadership decided to relieve her as the president of Vanitha League. “I am a bit saddened, but I accept the party decision,” she said.
In the past, the Muslim League leadership has let off the hook several other leaders who had participated in events organised by Right-wing political and cultural outfits. For instance, in 2016, MK Muneer, the Minister for Social Welfare in the Congress-led United Democratic Front government in Kerala that the Muslim league was a part of, had drawn flak for attending Ganeshotsava event organised by the Shiv Sena in Kozhikode. In 2014, Muslim League Panakkad Sayyid Sadique Ali Shihab Thangal shared the dais with Baba Ramdev at an event in Kozhikode.
The strong action against Anwar has reignited an old debate about the purported discrimination against women in the Muslim League. When asked about this, Anwar said the Muslim League had given her a lot of opportunities. “I am indebted to the party,” she said.
Anwar has spoken out against the Muslim League in the past too.
Last year, she had criticised the party for not fielding a single woman candidate in the 2016 Assembly election. In November, she made headlines when a senior male leader stopped her from talking at a meeting organised by the youth wing of the party, saying that “the Muslim League’s tradition doesn’t allow women to speak to men.” An audio recording of the conversation was allegedly leaked.
Anwar had also faced the wrath of the Muslim League in 2012 after she criticised MK Muneer, the Panchayats minister at the time. Subsequently, she was removed as chairperson of the State Women’s Development Corporation.
Anwar said she had expressed her grievances in party forums but had never thought of deserting the Muslim League. “I know that rumours have been doing the rounds about my migration to BJP. It is all rubbish. I will continue as a Muslim League worker.”
However, she indicated that she may retire from active politics soon, to focus on social work. “I have been mulling over retirement for quite some time. I think the controversy has given me the best opportunity,” she said.
Anwar, who holds PhD in women’s empowerment, masters’ degree in Dietetics and Nutrition and bachelor’s degree in Home Science, has been running Fathibi’s Educational, Social and Cultural Institute at her home town of Tirur in Malappuram district. The institute gives vocational training to women in her locality. She is also running a home for destitute women called Sneha Veedu, which has 15 inmates. “I get more satisfaction from social work, and not from politics,” she said.