Bengaluru violence: Why SDPI is a worry for Congress in Karnataka

BENGALURU: Every time there’s communal trouble in Karnataka, BJP and Congress clamour for a ban on Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of controversial organisation Popular Front of India. While BJP is more vocal about it, Congress perhaps attaches greater importance to the demand. This is because a more popular SDPI threatens to erode Congress’s reach among Muslims, who form 13 per cent of the state’s population and are a key support base of the party.
There are concerns among some Congress members that the party might stop being Muslims’ sole political voice.
In the 2013 assembly polls, SDPI contested 23 seats, but lost badly in 22, managing a cumulative vote share of 3.2 per cent. The seats were primarily in areas with a sizeable Muslim population. In the 2018 assembly elections, SDPI fielded candidates in 25 constituencies, out of which it finally contested in only three — Narasimharaja in Mysuru, Chickpet in Bengaluru and Kalaburagi North. It withdrew from the 22 segments because of reported pressure from community leaders and Congress members.
In the past two years, SDPI, formed in 2009, has gained more supporters by contesting rural and urban local bodies’ polls. According to its Karnataka media incharge, Abrar Ahmed, it has 65 elected representatives in gram panchayats and 24 in urban local bodies, mainly in Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu, Chamarajnagar, Kolar, Yadgir and Bengaluru Urban and Rural districts. SDPI’’s Mujahid Pasha was elected from Siddapura ward in Chickpet in the last BBMP polls. The group plans to strengthen its political activities.
“Congress is not doing enough for the community’s cause. It doesn’t give the community adequate representation in the assembly or Lok Sabha elections. Therefore, we have taken on the mantle,” said an SDPI functionary.
Risk of vote split?
Senior Congress politicians dismiss the talk of SDPI hurting the party. But some others say SDPI’s popularity will split the Muslim vote, which will benefit BJP. Political analyst Sandeep Shashtri said parties’ failure to reassure minorities that their voice would be heard and increasing polarisation had contributed to SDPI’s growth. “It seems to be gaining from this unease among minorities, though there is a gulf between its stated goals and questionable methods,” he added.
Former minister Roshan Baig claimed Congress had been patronising SDPI for the past 10 years. “Poor sections of minority communities should not be exploited by SDPI or Congress,” he said.

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