The Karnataka cabinet took an anonymous decision last week to gather enough evidence and build a strong case to recommend the Centre to ban the political outfit, Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). The government alleged that SDPI and its parent organisation Popular Front of India (PFI) were creating frequent law and order issues in the state.
The move comes in the backdrop of Bangalore police accusing the outfits of instigating a mob that went violent on August 11 attacking police stations and burning 142 vehicles following a communally insensitive and derogatory post by a budding politician. The police arrested SDPI leader Muzammil Pasha and five party workers in connection with the violence.
SDPI state president Ilyas Mohammed Tumbe claimed that the party had no role in the Bangalore violence and said they did not mobilise people as alleged by the government. He called the arrest of their party workers “illegal” and alleged that BJP was trying to target them.
The BJP government led by BS Yediyurappa does not want the political outfit to raise its head again in the state. But SDPI’s rise seems to stem from the fact that mainstream political parties ignored the cause of Muslims. The party is still in power in several local bodies in Karnataka and Kerala.
Political analysts feel that a complete ban would make it hollow and a large organisation would go underground, which could further complicate the problem for the state.
“Largely, a successful strategy in the past has been to absorb them into mainstream politics. A complete ban would isolate them and such a large organization will take its head in a different way,” Narendra Pani, political analyst and faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies said. “They may go underground and it would certainly pose a challenge to the state in monitoring their activities.”
SDPI was formed in 2009 as a political platform for the advancement of weaker and marginalized sections of the society. But over the years, political observers believe it moved away from its core objective. The party has come under scanner by various governments including in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Kerala, for their alleged roles in creating law and order issues. The BJP and intelligence wing in several states mark PFI as a “terrorist outfit”.
The Congress party, which under the Siddaramaiah government in 2015 withdrew nearly 175 cases booked against members of SDPI and its affiliate organisations for rioting in different parts of the state, now backed the demand for a ban.
Back then, the government had said it reviewed the charges on a case to case basis and found no evidence of them indulging in riots in various districts.
Politicians in Karnataka also suspected that the organisation could have orchestrated the Bangalore violence to gain support in the upcoming civic body elections. SDPI, much like the RSS and the Bajrang Dal kept its focus on the select target groups. But the Bangalore violence could lead to a split in votes for the Congress and it could help the BJP. This is one of the reasons why SDPI members suspect that BJP and RSS could be behind the incident, though there is no evidence to back the claim.
Back in 2012, the party’s chief said lack of response by the government in eradicating exploitation of people made it a pressing need for them to form SDPI.
SDPI’s growth, particularly in places like Bangalore, Mysore and Mangalore, came in the backdrop of rising islamophobia and strengthening of right-wing forces. It in a way, it threatened the secular parties’ minority vote bank.
In 2013, SDPI fielded 24 candidates in alliance with BSP in the state assembly elections. It garnered the highest vote share in Narasimharaja constituency of Mysore and secured a runner-up position giving a tough fight for the Congress. In at least five constituencies, it secured the third position, garnering more votes than the Yediyurappa led KJP (now dissolved) and JD(S). In the 2015 civic body elections, SDPI contested in 18 wards but won only one in Siddapura.
Back then, the party was new to the state. In the upcoming local body elections, it has planned to contest about 40-45 seats.
In 2015 Kerala local body elections, the party secured 49 seats. The CPM even forged an electoral understanding with SDPI during the last assembly election. But the relationship went sore after CPM came down heavily on the latter for its alleged role in terror activities. Later SDPI went on to support Congress-led UDF in Lok Sabha polls.
During the Anti-CAA protest, Kerala Chief Minister Pinnarayi Vijayan hinted at SDPI and said they were thinking in an extremist way and were trying to infiltrate the protests in many places and divert the issues. “They were not only indulging in violence but also trying to divide people and create communal disharmony in society,” the CM had said.
Ever since the party’s parent body PFI came under the lens of NIA in 2016 where they accused them of conducting secret training camps in use of swords and explosives in Kerala, several BJP ruled states wanted to ban them. NIA even conducted searches at 20 PFI offices in Tamil Nadu in connection with a murder investigation
Also, the then Raghubar Das-led BJP government in Jharkhand banned the outfit in February 2018, saying its members were “influenced” by ISIS. The party actively fought against killing and lynching in the name of cow-protection. But soon, the Jharkhand High Court set aside the ban on technical grounds. Yet again, months before the elections, the government banned the outfit for anti-national activities.
Similarly, soon after the Anti-CAA violence broke out in UP, the Yogi Adityanath government sought a ban against PFI and accused them of having a role behind all the damage done to property and arson in the state. “Such organisations will not be allowed to flourish. They will certainly face a ban,” the CM had said.
Amid all this, the SDPI party’s state president is still hopeful that the state would not impose a ban. “A ban on a political party has not come easily so far in the Indian political history. Even with the Jharkhand case, we are still fighting the case and we are hopeful of winning it as the state has no proof against the PFI,” Tumbe said.