There’s a story about AP Abdullakutty that begins recirculating every time he switches parties: In 2006, the then Lok Sabha MP from the CPI(M) travelled over 600km from his hometown in Kerala’s Kannur district to the famed Vaitheeswaran Koil village near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu to meet an astrologer. The controversial Leftist, who used to describe himself as a “Muslim-Marxist”, wanted to find out when his birthday was, a fact that his family had not recorded.
The elderly practitioner of Nadi astrology (which uses thumb impressions to read the person’s destiny) gave Abdullakutty his horoscope, and also some advice which the politician seems to have taken to heart: change political loyalties at frequent intervals to hold on to power and position.
Three years after that visit, the CPI(M) suspended and later expelled the politician for praising then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s development model. Soon, Abdullakutty joined the Congress, which was happy to welcome him and send him to the Kerala assembly not once, but twice.
But 10 years later, Abdullakutty did it again—got himself expelled from the Congress, and that too for the same reason: praising Modi, who by then had left Gujarat behind for Delhi, and the prime minister’s chair.
On Monday, he visited New Delhi to visit his hero, and is expected to join the party formally soon.
But why was Abdullakutty’s journey from the Left to the Right delayed by a 10-year stint at the centre? And if this doesn’t work out, does he have any place left to jump to?
Why the BJP, and why now?
Political observers say that Abdullakutty’s latest move to embrace the Sangh Parivar is based on careful calculations: the upcoming by-election to the Manjeswaram assembly constituency in Kasaragod. In 2016, the Indian Union Muslim League’s P B Abdul Razak scraped through, defeating BJP’s K Surendran by 89 votes. After Razak’s death, the constituency which has a huge Muslim population as well as several Sangh Parivar strongholds, is up for grabs. Abdullakutty may have been able to convince Modi and Amit Shah that a practising Muslim like him, who performed pre-Haj umra in Mecca soon after returning from Vaitheeswaran Koil, could bridge the divide between hardcore believers among both Hindus and Muslims.
He is also aiming to project himself as the Shahnawaz Hussain of the South. While the right-wing party had inducted former union minister Alphons Kannanthanam as its Christian face some years ago, it was hobbled by the lack of a Muslim leader in the state. Insiders say Abdullakutty will at least be made a state secretary. In addition, the BJP also plans to highlight him across the country as a nationalist Muslim with a Hindutva worldview. His illustrious past as a two-time CPI(M) MP and two-time Congress MLA is the icing on the cake.
While Abdullakutty is joining BJP with many ambitions, his former associates in the CPI(M) and Congress have derided him as a powermonger turncoat without any ideology. Mullapally Ramachandran, president of the state’s Congress (which was happy to welcome him 10 years ago) described him as opportunism personified.
Back in 2009, when the CPI(M) suspended Abdullakutty, Modi had invited his Marxist fan to the BJP.
“Despite being a Muslim and a communist, he praised me and my policies, and that deserves admiration,” Modi had said in February 2009. But Abdullakutty chose the Congress then as the BJP barely had any chances of winning in Kerala. 10 years later, the party still hasn’t opened its Lok Sabha account in the state but has one MLA, and is eyeing more gains from polarisation. That’s why Abdullakutty has chosen to burn his bridges with two major parties.
A liability soon?
Like most other turncoats, Abdullakutty has often changed his political views according to the party. As the president of the CPI(M)’s student wing, he was a part of violent agitations against computerisation and self-financed colleges. But once he left the party, he began supporting a ban on agitational politics and turned into a champion of technology.
One thing BJP can rely on is Abdullakutty’s self-projected patriotism—this reporter once wrote about his plans to take a break from active politics to safeguard the country’s borders as a soldier of the Territorial Army (he changed his mind later, apparently because the task was too tough).
A politician who takes frequent breaks from public life to focus on his business interests, which include real estate and tourist hotels, Kutty is a rare species for many in Kerala. During his stint with the Congress, he faced many allegations, including financial misappropriation. But the survivor managed to keep himself afloat. And at the right moment, he took out the Modi card to ensure a suitable rehabilitation in the Sangh Parivar camp.
With hardly any followers, Kutty may soon turn into a liability for the BJP as well. But until then, the saffron camp will hope that his name and religious identity pay off for them in the state.