Karnataka’s BJP Government Wants To Ban SDPI, But Will They? 

SDPI is the political arm of Popular Front of India (PFI).

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The flag of SDPI. 
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Snapshot

Following the violent clash in Bengaluru’s DJ Halli area on 11 August, the Karnataka government, in principle, has decided to seek a ban on the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and its parent organisation, the Popular Front of India (PFI). The government alleges that SDPI leaders were responsible for the violence in Bengaluru and have been involved in past cases as well.

Bengaluru City Police Commissioner Kamal Pant on Sunday extended restrictions imposed under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure till 6 am of August 18 in areas under riot-hit DJ Halli and KG Halli police stations limits.
Bengaluru City Police Commissioner Kamal Pant on Sunday extended restrictions imposed under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure till 6 am of August 18 in areas under riot-hit DJ Halli and KG Halli police stations limits.
(Source: The News Minute)

Sources in the government say a final report will go to the central government based on evidence collected during the investigation.

So, what are the reasons for the Karnataka government to seek a ban on SDPI? Will it be possible, since SDPI is a political party registered with Election Commission of India? Most importantly, considering SDPI’s peculiar position in Karnataka’s electoral politics, can the BJP afford to ban the party?

Karnataka’s BJP Government Wants To Ban SDPI, But Will They? 

  1. 1. The Origins of SDPI

    Before understanding SDPI’s politics, it is important to understand its origin. Although SDPI was launched on 21 June 2009, the history of the party goes way back, since SDPI is the political wing of the controversial Popular Front of India (PFI).

    Even though PFI as an organisation came to existence in 2006, its origin dates back to 1993. Following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a political organisation by the name National Development Front (NDF) was created in Kerala, to protect the interests of the Muslim community in the state.

    Karnataka’s BJP Government Wants To Ban SDPI, But Will They? 

    In its initial days, NDF’s activities were limited to Kerala. But after gaining popularity a call was taken to expand its influence, and create a unified organisation, merging like-minded groups from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

    So in 2006, the Popular Front of India (PFI) was formed, merging NDF, Karnataka Forum for Dignity, and Manitha Neethi Pasarai in Tamil Nadu. Over the next three years, a few more organisations – Goa's Citizen's Forum, Rajasthan's Community Social and Educational Society, West Bengal's Nagarik Adhikar Suraksha Samiti, Manipur's Lilong Social Forum, and Andhra Pradesh’s Association of Social Justice – merged with the PFI.

    Expand
  2. 2. Transition to Electoral Politics

    PFI members taking part in a rally. Image used for representational purposes.
    PFI members taking part in a rally. Image used for representational purposes.
    (Photo Courtesy: PFI / Altered by The Quint)

    In its initial days, PFI had limited interest in electoral politics in Karnataka. A former intelligence officer in Karnataka told The Quint that in those years PFI projected itself as an organisation dedicated to the Muslim community.

    “Conflict between sections of the Muslim and Hindu communities was frequent. Politically, Hindus had the support of RSS and BJP. The Muslim community looked at the Congress for support; but the Congress didn’t align itself with one particular community,” he said.

    PFI filled this vacuum over the years, projecting itself as an organisation working to protect the Muslim community. “As their popularity increased among the Muslim community, they realised they could fill the political vacuum created by Congress party's reluctance,” the officer explained.

    Expand
  3. 3. The Political Games

    SDPI's electoral victories were limited to urban local body elections. It did not make an impact on state politics in its initial days. However, in the 2013 Assembly polls, SDPI state president Abdul Majeed fought against the three-time Congress legislator and former minister Tanveer Sait in the Narashimaraja assembly segment, a constituency dominated by Muslims. He lost the election by 8370 votes.

    The Congress realized that SDPI, with its Muslim support, would be a threat to them in the future. “The Muslim votes getting divided would have been a big headache for the party. There were two options before us -- take on the SDPI or align with them. The party chose the latter,” said a Congress leader on the condition of anonymity.

    He added that the cabinet decision to drop cases against 1,600 activists of Popular Front of India (PFI) and Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD), who were booked for rioting, in 2015, was part of this attempt.

    The former intelligence officer said that this support from the then ruling Congress party gave SDPI/PFI more strength. “Following this, the number of incidents involving SDPI/PFI increased,” he said.

    Expand
  4. 4. The Politics of Violence

    A burnt police vehicle outside DJ Halli police station. 
    A burnt police vehicle outside DJ Halli police station. 
    (Photo: Arun Dev/The Quint)

    PFI members in Karnataka have been involved in the political murders of the four RSS workers in the state. While two of the murders were reported in the coastal city of Mangaluru, one case each was reported in Bengaluru and Mysuru.

    Five people, including Bengaluru district president of PFI Azim Sheriff, were arrested for the murder of RSS man Rudresh in October 2016, in Bengaluru’s Shivajinagar.

    In January 2020, Bengaluru police arrested six activists associated with SDPI for the attack on RSS activist Varun Bhoopalam, 31, on 22 December following an ‘India with CAA’ rally. Police also claimed some SDPI workers were arrested in connection with the violence in Bengaluru's Padarayanapura locality on 19 April.

    The latest incident involving SDPI workers was the 11 August violence in Bengaluru’s DJ Halli. SDPI leader Muzammil Pasha is currently under arrest on charges of conspiring to incite violence.

    Expand
  5. 5. So Will There be a Ban?

    The SDPI has claimed it has been made a scapegoat. “It is clearly visible that the BJP has conspired in the violence keeping eye on the upcoming BBMP civic polls and Assembly elections,” SDPI state president Eliyas Mohammed Thumbe said.

    A Congress leader said that even though BJP has demanded a ban on SDPI, it is unlikely that they would go through with it. “Reasons are political. The BJP knows the need for the SDPI. They know that SDPI can eat into the Muslim vote bank of the Congress. So they would never ban SDPI,” the leader said.

    According to him this entire episode is aimed at polarising voters on religious lines. When asked, BJP minister CT Ravi denied these allegations. He said that banning an ‘extremist organisation’ SDPI is important and his party would see the decision through.

    (The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

    Expand

The Origins of SDPI

Before understanding SDPI’s politics, it is important to understand its origin. Although SDPI was launched on 21 June 2009, the history of the party goes way back, since SDPI is the political wing of the controversial Popular Front of India (PFI).

Even though PFI as an organisation came to existence in 2006, its origin dates back to 1993. Following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a political organisation by the name National Development Front (NDF) was created in Kerala, to protect the interests of the Muslim community in the state.

Karnataka’s BJP Government Wants To Ban SDPI, But Will They? 

In its initial days, NDF’s activities were limited to Kerala. But after gaining popularity a call was taken to expand its influence, and create a unified organisation, merging like-minded groups from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

So in 2006, the Popular Front of India (PFI) was formed, merging NDF, Karnataka Forum for Dignity, and Manitha Neethi Pasarai in Tamil Nadu. Over the next three years, a few more organisations – Goa's Citizen's Forum, Rajasthan's Community Social and Educational Society, West Bengal's Nagarik Adhikar Suraksha Samiti, Manipur's Lilong Social Forum, and Andhra Pradesh’s Association of Social Justice – merged with the PFI.

Transition to Electoral Politics

PFI members taking part in a rally. Image used for representational purposes.
PFI members taking part in a rally. Image used for representational purposes.
(Photo Courtesy: PFI / Altered by The Quint)

In its initial days, PFI had limited interest in electoral politics in Karnataka. A former intelligence officer in Karnataka told The Quint that in those years PFI projected itself as an organisation dedicated to the Muslim community.

“Conflict between sections of the Muslim and Hindu communities was frequent. Politically, Hindus had the support of RSS and BJP. The Muslim community looked at the Congress for support; but the Congress didn’t align itself with one particular community,” he said.

PFI filled this vacuum over the years, projecting itself as an organisation working to protect the Muslim community. “As their popularity increased among the Muslim community, they realised they could fill the political vacuum created by Congress party's reluctance,” the officer explained.

The Political Games

SDPI's electoral victories were limited to urban local body elections. It did not make an impact on state politics in its initial days. However, in the 2013 Assembly polls, SDPI state president Abdul Majeed fought against the three-time Congress legislator and former minister Tanveer Sait in the Narashimaraja assembly segment, a constituency dominated by Muslims. He lost the election by 8370 votes.

The Congress realized that SDPI, with its Muslim support, would be a threat to them in the future. “The Muslim votes getting divided would have been a big headache for the party. There were two options before us -- take on the SDPI or align with them. The party chose the latter,” said a Congress leader on the condition of anonymity.

He added that the cabinet decision to drop cases against 1,600 activists of Popular Front of India (PFI) and Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD), who were booked for rioting, in 2015, was part of this attempt.

The former intelligence officer said that this support from the then ruling Congress party gave SDPI/PFI more strength. “Following this, the number of incidents involving SDPI/PFI increased,” he said.

The Politics of Violence

A burnt police vehicle outside DJ Halli police station. 
A burnt police vehicle outside DJ Halli police station. 
(Photo: Arun Dev/The Quint)

PFI members in Karnataka have been involved in the political murders of the four RSS workers in the state. While two of the murders were reported in the coastal city of Mangaluru, one case each was reported in Bengaluru and Mysuru.

Five people, including Bengaluru district president of PFI Azim Sheriff, were arrested for the murder of RSS man Rudresh in October 2016, in Bengaluru’s Shivajinagar.

In January 2020, Bengaluru police arrested six activists associated with SDPI for the attack on RSS activist Varun Bhoopalam, 31, on 22 December following an ‘India with CAA’ rally. Police also claimed some SDPI workers were arrested in connection with the violence in Bengaluru's Padarayanapura locality on 19 April.

The latest incident involving SDPI workers was the 11 August violence in Bengaluru’s DJ Halli. SDPI leader Muzammil Pasha is currently under arrest on charges of conspiring to incite violence.

So Will There be a Ban?

The SDPI has claimed it has been made a scapegoat. “It is clearly visible that the BJP has conspired in the violence keeping eye on the upcoming BBMP civic polls and Assembly elections,” SDPI state president Eliyas Mohammed Thumbe said.

A Congress leader said that even though BJP has demanded a ban on SDPI, it is unlikely that they would go through with it. “Reasons are political. The BJP knows the need for the SDPI. They know that SDPI can eat into the Muslim vote bank of the Congress. So they would never ban SDPI,” the leader said.

According to him this entire episode is aimed at polarising voters on religious lines. When asked, BJP minister CT Ravi denied these allegations. He said that banning an ‘extremist organisation’ SDPI is important and his party would see the decision through.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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