Bengaluru violence: 'We are everybody's punching bag,' says SDPI leader as Karnataka govt mulls banning party

Naheed Ataulla
·5-min read

Bangalore: With the Karnataka government alleging the involvement of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) in the 11 August violence in DJ Halli and KG Halli areas of Bengaluru, which claimed three lives, the political organisation which adopted "electoral and agitational" approaches to fulfill its objectives faces the threat of being banned.

Floated in 2009 as a political platform for the "advancement of the people of India, particularly the weaker and marginalised sections of the society", as declared in its official website, the SDPI today has come under the scanner of investigation agencies for allegedly stoking communal passions.

Now recognised as the political arm of the Popular Front of India (PFI) whose activities are also under the scanner, the SDPI in its attempt to match the RSS, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad has allegedly drifted from promoting positive politics committed to empower the Muslims, Dalits and deprived communities.

In Karnataka, the SDPI is suspected to have played a role in the attack on Congress MLA Tanveer Sait in November 2019, accused of inciting violence during an anti Citizenship Amendment Act protest in Mangaluru in December 2019 in which two persons died in police firing, and is now being probed for inciting the DJ Halli and KG Halli violence.

Political rise

The party's electoral presence in the Shivajinagar and Hunsur Assembly bypolls in December 2019 led to a fall in victory margins of Congress candidates Rizwan Arshad and HP Manjunath.

Arshad, who faced a tough contest with both the JD(S) and SDPI fielding Muslim candidates during the polls, said, "The SDPI is a reactionary force to the BJP."

The SDPI, however, has denied any links to the BJP.

Speaking with Firstpost, Karnataka state SDPI president Elyas Muhammed Thumbe said. "If we don't contest, our party will not grow. Every five years, we have to do this as the Congress is the other face of the RSS."

Thumbe was a candidate from the Mangaluru Lok Sabha seat in 2019 and had polled nearly 48,000 votes.

Speaking about the SDPI's presence in Karnataka, Thumbe said that the party is strong in 18 of the 30 districts in Karnataka which include Dakshina Kannada, Uttar Kannada, Mysuru, Chamarajanagar, Kolar, Kalaburagi and Yadgir.

It has electoral presence in 97 Panchayats while it controlled the Sajeeta gram panchayat in Bantwal taluk of Dakshina Kannada district. "We are in matching strength wherever the Sangh Parivar is strong," he maintained.

Across the country, the SDPI has panchayat members in Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan.

"We admit people who want to be in politics for a cause and not for a career. Our approach is electoral and agitational. During coronavirus pandemic, along with PFI, our volunteers are involved in distributing ration and also in performing the last rites of COVID-19 patients irrespective of religion," said Waseem Ahmed, a district leader of SDPI in Bengaluru.

SDPI dismisses the allegations of playing a role in communal clashes in the state, stating that there is no proof for it.

"We become the soft target for all. In boxing, you need a punching bag to practise. We are that," Ahmed said of the SDPI.

Banning extremists organisations

The demand for banning the SDPI, PFI, RSS and other Right-wing organisations has cropped up during every government in Karnataka, but it has remained only at the discussions stage.

Former Karnataka home minister G Parameshwara, who is now heading a six-member team constituted by the Congress to probe the cause for the DJ Halli violence, said, "I will not blame the entire SDPI organisation as one needs proof, but there are individuals who must have been involved in provoking the incidents. The process to establish proof for banning extremist organisations had commenced during my tenure."

Speaking on the DJ Halli violence, Parameshwara said that there were reports that those who had gone to file the complaint against the Facebook account holder P Naveen for his derogatory post on Prophet Mohammad were SDPI members. Whether the organisation provoked the violence as well has to be examined, he added.

Another former Karnataka home minister Ramalinga Reddy said that the modus operandi of the SDPI, PFI or VHP or the Bajrang Dal activists was similar. During his tenure, there were murders and counter murders of members of extremist organisations.

"All organisations had the same approach, after the accused was taken into custody their respective lawyers would camp at police stations and courts to obtain bail. During the trial, these organisations would take care of the accused's families," he added.

Reddy said that during his tenure, he had ordered the police to nab all those who were suspects in political killings.

"They were put behind bars which ensured the closure of the terrorist factories. In the last two years, there were no political murders," he maintained

Political commentator and Jain University's pro-vice-chancellor Sandeep Shastri said that the rise of political parties like the SDPI or groups like PFI clearly reflects the failure of the so called "secular" forces to articulate, represent and protect the interests of the religious minorities.

"When politics and political expression witnesses an extreme polarisation in terms of 'we' and 'they', as one sees today, it results in politics of 'exclusion' rather than 'inclusion'. In the process perceptions of being pushed to the 'margins' or being 'sidelined' or being 'the non-mainstream voice' become assertive and often get expressed through such organisations. While it can be persuasively argued that such groups represent and voice an 'existism' from accepted forms and means of political behaviour, their rise and rising popularity among segments of society also need to be seen in terms of segments of society believing that in the mainstream discourse, their voice is neither heard nor their grievances are legitimately articulated."

Also See: Bengaluru violence: Deve Gowda says only real culprits should be punished after police arrest 140 for riots

Bengaluru violence: BSY's govt orders magisterial inquiry; accused to bear cost of damages to public property

Congress hits out at BJP over Bengaluru violence, calls it 'complete failure of law and order machinery'

Read more on India by Firstpost.