ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Muslim League in Kerala

Exploring the Question of ‘Being Secular’

The political trajectory of the Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala displays a unique engagement of religion-based political mobilisation of Muslims withsecular–democratic politics in India. In the contemporary context of aggressive Hindutva politics, the Muslim League is faced with the dual challenge of resisting majoritarian communalism while simultaneously countering new mobilisations from within the community that are based on a radical Islamic identity, but deploy explicitly secular discourses. A critical appraisal of this situation requires moving beyond the pre-occupation with the formal aspects of secularisation and instead arrive at more substantive conceptions of “being secular” that embrace deeper commitments to secularism, such as plurality and toleration.

The authors thank Filippo Osella, Sudha Sitharaman and the anonymous reviewer for their extremely helpful comments and suggestions. They also thank the Indian Council for Social Science Research for granting a research project on the emerging Muslim politics in Kerala, which helped them in writing this paper.


The Indian Union Muslim League (henceforth, the Muslim League), established on 10 March 1948, presents a fascinating story of the political mobilisation of Muslims and their engagement with democratic politics in independent India. Widely seen as representing a break as well as a continuation from the All India Muslim League (AIML) established in 1906, the Muslim League was formed to protect the rights of Muslims and to ensure their political mainstreaming in India. Muslim League charted its own course since its formation and is largely confined to Kerala with minimal organisational presence in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka at present. Notwithstanding its limited geographical influence, a close inquiry into the contemporary dynamics of the Muslim League provides illuminating insights into the relationship between Muslim politics and secularism in India, especially in the present context of aggressive Hindu majoritarian politics.

In this paper, we suggest that the Muslim Leagues engagement with secular-democratic politics in contemporary India provides crucial insights into the conventional debates on secularisation that carries an a priori characterisation of any contamination of politics with religion as communal. The Muslim League, emerging from the specific cultural context of Kerala, provides an interesting example of how communities use religion-based mobilisation to safeguard their interests by engaging in meaningful negotiations with the state and similar political organisations representing caste or religious interests through peaceful and democratic means. On the contrary, the novel forms of political mobilisations emerged among Muslims in Kerala in the post-Babri Masjid context, which articulate their politics through overtly explicit secular idioms and discourses, betray deep commitment to radical Islamic identity with political connotations. Critically exploring this paradox, the paper argues that it is not the use of religion as such in democratic politics that defines an entitys communal character or otherwise, but the specific value orientations as well as ethical dispositions contributing towards deeper commitments to secularism such as plurality and toleration that determine it. This necessitates us to move beyond the pre-occupation with the formal aspects of secularisation process focused on organisational forms and appearance to more substantive conceptions of being secular.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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