After surviving PFI ban, SDPI hopes to open political account, with a Mysuru seat its best hope
THE Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) office in Mysuru’s Udayagiri seems muted for a campaign day, ahead of the May 10 Karnataka Assembly polls. About 30 party workers trail in as 53-year-old Abdul Majeed, a key Karnataka SDPI leader who was instrumental in building up the party cadre among the Muslim community in the city, enters at 10 am.
The SDPI was the only affiliated outfit of the radical Popular Front of India (PFI) to escape the ban on it, and months later, it is struggling to keep its feet planted in the state. Of the 16 seats it is contesting across Karnataka, after a scaling down of ambitions, Narasimharaja constituency in Mysuru from where Majeed is contesting is where it has the best prospects of registering a presence.
After the day is planned – speech venues, meetings with community organisations, a television appearance – the group of 30 set off to visit segments of Narasimharaja.
On several instances in the past, Majeed, also the SDPI president of Mysuru, has made headlines for his fiery, aggressive speeches. In March last year, after right-wing Hindu activists announced that they would perform religious rituals near Mangaluru’s Malali Mosque, claiming that it was built on a temple, he declared: “Not even a handful of mud of the Malali Masjid will be shared.”
But, the opinion in Narasimharaja, a Congress bastion the SDPI leader contested the last two times too without winning, seems to be that Majeed has toned down his approach since his first election in 2013. That was the year the SDPI made its political debut in Karnataka as the PFI’s political outfit.
A 45-year-old trader standing close to the SDPI office, who does not wish to be named, says: “Things have changed a lot from 2013. The kind of following Majeed had then was phenomenal and he could have even won. But he did not capitalise on it. Also, he has not been active in local areas. There was a time when huge groups of young Muslims would gather around and cheer as he spoke. But now you do not see the same Abdul Majeed or his followers.”
Majeed, who is a B.Com graduate, too seems to agree. “It is true that I am not aggressive as I was in 2013. But you also look at the politics in the country… It has transformed in the last 10 years (of the Modi government at the Centre). I am aware of it, and as part of a strategy, I have toned down aggressive speeches. However when it comes to nation or state issues, my speeches will be aggressive. In the constituency, we are working with associations and organisations, they won’t be,” he says, admitting that he is betting on the fact that 60% of voters in the constituency are Muslim.
In 2013, when the SDPI contested 24 seats in Karnataka in alliance with the BSP, Majeed had finished second in Narasimharaja, 9,000-odd votes behind three-time Congress MLA Tanveer Sait. But, in 2018, when the SDPI contested just three seats, Majeed got half of Sait’s votes with the BJP’s S Satheesh finishing ahead of the SDPI leader.
All the three candidates are making a return in Narasimharaja this time.
While the SDPI had announced as recently as the beginning of this month that it would field 100 candidates, it has ended up fielding only 16 (see map).
Majeed distances the SDPI from the PFI, while saying the PFI ban won’t impact them. “The SDPI is an independent political party, with democratic and secular values, unlike the PFI. Among the candidates we have fielded, there are Hindus and a Christian as well.”
The SDPI had been at the centre of the row in Karnataka when the state government banned hijab in pre-university colleges. The SDPI had extended its support to students who were fighting for their hijab rights and also participated in protests.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai recently said hijab and halal – which has also seen Hindutva protests — will not be an election issue. However, Majeed does not agree, stressing that these will matter, especially in the coastal districts. “Muslims were hurt by the state government act going against the constitutional rights of citizens. Even the Congress did not stand with the students or the Muslim community, only we did. It will help us during the elections.”
A Congress insider concedes Majeed will get a good amount of Muslim votes, but says his only chance of a win is if there is “a revolt within the constituency’s Congress unit” — of which there is a possibility.
The leader adds: “Ayub Khan, a former mayor of Mysuru City Corporation, has been waiting to get the Congress ticket from Narasimharaja for two terms, but this time also he was disappointed. Before he was fielded again, Sait had announced political retirement. This had brought hopes to Ayub Khan’s supporters, but then the Congress gave the ticket to Sait.”
The only time the BJP made a mark here was in 1994, in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition, when the party’s Maruthirao Pawar had won.