In a state where the Shia population is limited to less than 5,000, Sunnis are largely identified with either the EK group named after late E K Abubacker Musaliyar or the AP group led by orthodox cleric Kanthapuram A P Abubacker Musaliyar.
The EK Sunnis are politically identified with Indian Union Muslim League, while the AP Sunnis have traditionally supported the Left. Sources said it is after the IUML made overtures to the AP group, with party leaders frequently attending this groups functions, that annoyed EK group leaders decided to launch a new Malayalam daily, Suprabhatham (Good Morning), with the backing of Samastha Kerala Jamiyathul Ulema, an influential organisation of Sunni clerics.
A newspaper has become important for taking our activities to community members. Other papers are not doing our group justice. At the same time, the daily will be secular in outlook and content, said board of directors chairman Kottumala Bappu Musaliyar. Launched with an initial investment of Rs 25 crore, the newspaper has sourced its funds from businessmen in the Middle East apart from community members in Kerala.
The EK group is the larger one, controlling 9,500 of Keralas 12,000 madarsas and accounting for 12 lakh students. The rivalry has sometimes taken a violent turn, with two persons killed last year and several madarsas attacked in north Kerala. Earlier this month, EK leaders in Malappuram, which their community dominates, complained to police against the AP groups alleged bid to take control of mosques and madarsas.
Bappu Musaliyar admits the newspaper initiative has contributed to the tension. It is quite natural. The clashes show the spirit of the organisation. We want to counter baseless allegations and campaigns against the community with the upcoming daily, he said.
Sources said the new daily has already got subscription orders for 3.5 lakh copies. Kerala already has Muslim newspapers Madhyamam (promoted by Jamaat Islami), Thejas (by Popular Front of India), Varthamanam (by Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen), Chandrika (mouthpiece of Indian Union Muslim League) and Siraj (of the rival Sunni faction).
Except Chandrika, all have been launched in the last three decades, a period marked by an assertion of identity by Muslim groups and growth in Muslim education.
Navas Punoor, senior editor of the new daily, said the growth in the newspaper business also reflects a growing reading habit among Muslims. In the last two decades, Malappuram and Kozhikode districts of North Kerala have become a hub of publication. There is still space for another daily from the Muslim community. Only a few among the community are subscribing to a second daily, said Punoor.