The Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political offshoot of the controversial Popular Front of India (PFI), a predominantly Muslim organisation that is most active in Kerala, is poised to damage the traditional bipolar electoral politics of coastal Karnataka.
SDPI has announced that it would contest all the seats in Dakshina Kannada and a total of 50 seats on its own across the state. The partyâ€™s decision comes after it was apparently snubbed by the JD(S) and the Congress.
SDPI, which has done well in the local body polls in coastal Karnataka, can potentially damage the traditional bipolar electoral system of the region. The party won 39 and 13 seats in the Dakshina Kannada and Udupi district gram panchayat elections respectively in 2015. The party achieved encouraging results at the Mangaluru urban local body polls as well.
According to poll observers, it is the Congress that is likely to be the biggest loser if the SDPI is able to repeat its success in the local polls, as both parties are believed to be dependent on Muslim votes.
Food and Civil Supplies Minister UT Khader, who is one of the tallest Congress leaders from the region, had even said that BJPâ€™s Pratap Simhaâ€™s victory in Mysuru-Kodagu in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was only due to a split of the Congress and SDPI votes.
But noted political scientist Professor Muzaffar Assadi says, â€śI think it will not cut much ice this time. Minorities do not want to take a risk by dividing their votes and make way for the BJP except for two-three seats around Bantwal. They would not have an impact in urban areas. They might tilt the balance in the BJPâ€™s favour as margins can be very fine.â€ť
In 2013, the Congress had emerged victorious in seven out of the eight seats in Dakshina Kannada, all of which had been held by the BJP in 2008. Similarly, in Udupi, another coastal district, the Congress superseded expectations by winning three out of five seats. The picture was the exact opposite in 2008 when the BJP had managed 4 seats.
But the SDPI does not believe that it would block Congress votes and denies any understanding with the BJP.
â€śWe do not care if the Congress or the BJP suffers due to us. We have not built the party for that. Our party is built on the concept of social democracy. The Constitution is not being implemented, there is only corruption. Our voter base is not only limited to Muslims,â€ť a party functionary at the region said.
â€śWe have corporators in six municipalities/corporations across all the regions in the state,â€ť he added.
Controversy surrounding PFI
In September 2017, the National Investigation Agency had asked the Union Home Ministry to ban PFI under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
Soon after this was reported by the media, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju claimed that it was the Kerala government that sought a ban on PFI. This was, however, contradicted by the Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan who said that the government would counter such organisations through legal action.
PFI became an entity only in 2006 but its roots can be traced back to the National Development Front, which was formed after the 1993 Babri Masjid demolition to protect the â€śrights of Muslimsâ€ť in Kerala. It also claimed to be an organisation that worked for the upliftment of marginalised communities.