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A former Hamas leader’s address at an event showing solidarity with Palestine in Kerala state, India, has led to a political row in the country.
Solidarity Youth Movement, a wing of the socio-religious group Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in Kerala, had organised an Uproot Bulldozer Hindutva and Apartheid Zionism event to protest against the Israel-Gaza war, in Malappuram on Saturday.
A speech recorded in advance by Khaled Mashal, the group's Qatar-based leader, who was a founding member of the Hamas politburo and its chairman until 2017, was broadcast at Saturday's event.
India does not consider Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, a terrorist organisation.
Several pro-Palestine rallies have taken place in Kerala during the continuing Israeli air bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip.
Mr Mashal’s participation in the latest event has triggered a political uproar, with the ruling national Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accusing the state government ruled by the Left Democratic Front of “glorifying a terrorist organisation”.
“Hamas leader Khaled Mashal's virtual address at the Solidarity event in Malappuram is alarming. Where's Pinarayi Vijayan's Kerala Police? Under the guise of 'Save Palestine,' they're glorifying Hamas, a terrorist organisation, and its leaders as 'warriors.' This is unacceptable,” K Surendran, the BJP state president, said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Suhaib CT, state president of the Solidarity Youth Movement, said there was “nothing unusual” in Mr Mashal’s contribution, because Hamas is not a designated a terrorist organisation and not banned in India.
“It was a pro-Palestine rally and it was a pre-recorded video,” Mr Suhaib told The National. "Mashal speaking at our event is not a crime under the law.
"India is the world’s largest populated country and people have declared solidarity with Palestine. The BJP government is trying to hide such protests from India."
He said the BJP "have been trying to portray Kerala as a centre of terrorists for a long time".
"The Hamas leader did not talk about India or the issues there, but only about Palestine,” he added. “Allegations that there is terrorism in Kerala and that the Kerala government is not trying to stop it are only political exploits by the BJP."
Solidarity Youth Movement is planning to stage similar events, Mr Suhaib said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had strongly condemned Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, in which about 1,400 people were killed and 229 taken hostage, but his government has repeated its call to establish a “sovereign, independent and viable" state of Palestine.
However, New Delhi on Friday abstained from a resolution at the UN General Assembly that called for a humanitarian truce in the Gaza conflict and the protection of civilians.