Lok Sabha 2019: Will SDPI end up helping rivals BJP in Dakshin Kannada?

Will SDPI, which banks on the votes of the Muslim community, take away votes from Congress and JD(S)?
Lok Sabha 2019: Will SDPI end up helping rivals BJP in Dakshin Kannada?
Lok Sabha 2019: Will SDPI end up helping rivals BJP in Dakshin Kannada?

The Socialist Democratic Party of India (SDPI) on Sunday announced that they will contest from the Dakshina Kannada segment for the 2019 Lok Sabha election -- a segment they have been coming third in for the past two elections. The SDPI, which is the political wing of Popular Front of India, banks on the votes of the Muslim community. With the party back in the fray this time around, at a time when the political situation is believed to be more polarised than before, will the Congress-JD(S) alliance lose out on the votes of the Muslim community?

SDPI predominantly contains members from the Muslim community and is active in Kerala and parts of coastal Karnataka. The party has managed to break through Muslim dominant pockets in the state and has elected leaders in local civic bodies both in urban and rural Karnataka, especially in the coast.

And for the Lok Sabha elections, SDPI has named Ilyas Mohammed Thumbay, the party’s State President, as its candidate for Dakshina Kannada.

Will SDPI’s presence affect the Congress-JD(S) coalition?

In the civic polls held in September 2018, the party had an encouraging result in the Dakshina Kannada district. It managed to win 11 out of 25 seats in the Bantwal Town Municipality, which is part of the Congress heavyweight and former Minister, Ramnath Rai’s home constituency. In neighbouring Ullal municipality, too, SDPI managed to win six out of the nine seats.

However, political analysts say that SDPI’s prospect of winning a Lok Sabha seat looks bleak. Traditionally, in a fight between the Congress and the BJP, members of the Muslim community have voted for the Congress and the votes of the Dalit, Adivasi and OBC communities, are split between two parties. SDPI's presence is likely to affect the vote share of the Congress-JD(S) alliance, as the votes of the Muslim community would largely be taken away by SDPI. 

“There is no doubt that this will affect the Congress. The SDPI will only get the Muslim and some Dalit votes. This will split the Congress vote bank, giving BJP a clear advantage,” political analyst Mahadev Prakash said.

The Dakshina Kannada constituency, located in coastal Karnataka, was once a Congress fortress. The political situation changed in the early 1990s after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. The coastal belt became a region for the right-wing groups to test the idea of polarisation on religious grounds in order to gain popularity. This has largely worked for the RSS in the region and ever since then, the segment has been a BJP bastion.

Sitting MP of Dakshina Kannada, an RSS strongman, Naleen Kumar Kateel had won both the Parliamentary elections in 2009 and 2014 with a comfortable margin. The SDPI candidate Haneef Khan Kodage had scored a third place in the last two Parliamentary elections.

Congress insiders say that the SDPI can never win the elections as the only guaranteed votes they obtain are those of the Muslim community. “Dalit, Adivasi and OBC votes are getting split between us and the BJP. The Christian votes are with the Congress but the Muslim vote bank, which is crucial for the Congress, is being split because of SDPI. If we have to win, SDPI must refrain from contesting,” the Congress source said.

‘Won’t back down this election’: SDPI

Sources in the Congress say that the party’s leaders in Dakshina Kannada had approached SDPI leaders and asked them to collaborate with the party instead of fielding a candidate. “SDPI did not agree. We are still trying to convince them,” the source told TNM.

Speaking to TNM, Riyaz Farangipete, the SDPI state general secretary, explained why the party decided to contest this General election.

“Muslims, Christians and Dalits have been mistreated in the district many years. There has been unabated violence, too. And the so-called secular parties have failed to safeguard our interests. We will definitely win with the combined votes of Dalits and minorities alone. In the last three decades, the BJP has been winning and the Congress has been unable to do anything about it,” he said

Riyaz believes that there is no question of a division of votes this time around, while claiming that the electorate in Dakshina Kannada needs an alternative to the BJP and Congress. “We will show what secularism is. There is no question of dividing votes. We kept ourselves away (from politics) for 28 years. If the Congress loses, it’s because of infighting. Even by now, they have failed to decide a candidate. There is a clear necessity to find an alternative to the Congress and BJP in the district,” he added.

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