Bengaluru: The country-wide crackdown and subsequent ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI) has presumably brought the curtains down on the activities of the organisation and its offshoots to a standstill, at least for the time being.
Except for its political arm, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).
The clampdown is expected to have major impact on the political landscape in BJP-ruled Karnataka where the PFI, which espouses the minorities, read Muslims, was in a deadly face-off with right wing Hindutva organisations. Over the past few years, the PFI emerged as a champion of Muslims in the southern state, primarily in the coastal region.
With the PFI apparently neutralised on the ground, the spotlight has shifted to its political wing – the SDPI and the way forward.
Leveraging on the muscle-power of the PFI, the SDPI had been making inroads into the political landscape of Karnataka.
Especially with the aggressive Hindutva agenda adopted by the ruling BJP, Karnataka was a fertile ground for the SDPI to establish itself as an alternative to the Congress and Janata Dal (S) for Muslim votes.
Constituting around 13 per cent of the population, there are barely seven MLAs from the community in the 224-seat state Assembly. And all the seven elected Muslim representatives belong to the Congress.
The SDPI contested three Assembly seats in 2018, and one bypoll in 2019. It lost in all the seats but its presence is turning out to be an irritant to the Congress.
SDPI General Secretary Bhaskar Prasad had said, “The Congress is lending its support to BJP to ban SDPI. SDPI is working towards preventing BJP from creating Manuwadi Bharat. During Ayudh Pooja, RSS workers worshipped holding swords, knives. Women are being trained in guns and weapons by the RSS. This was revealed by Mohan Bhagvat himself.”
While the SDPI is yet to make its debut in the Assembly, it has been steadily growing at the grassroots level in certain pockets, like the coastal districts. The party registered victories in three urban local bodies, and also did well in the panchayat elections in a few districts.
The BJP hopes to benefit from this ‘victory’ over the PFI. It will aim to further cement its image as the protector of Hindu interests. On the other hand, the opposition Congress is expecting to regain its dwindling support among the Muslim community.
The AAP, which is trying to position itself as the new alternative to the established players in the state, is sceptical of the actual intentions of the BJP and Congress.
“The ban on the PFI is a farce and it has been imposed for political gains. BJP has politically used SDPI. There should be a survey on this. Like how US nursed Bin Laden, BJP ensured the growth of SDPI in the country,” said Jagadish V Sadam, state executive committee member of AAP.
Although the SDPI has found the going tough thus far in the Assembly elections, following the crackdown on PFI, it expects to reap the benefits at the hustings when Karnataka goes to the polls in 2023.
Following the ban on PFI, an apparently unfazed SDPI leadership has unveiled plans to contest 100 Assembly seats in the next year’s polls. The short-term goal is to win at least five Assembly seats in 2023, its leaders have stated.