Mangaluru: What would be the impact of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) in the twin coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections is a question that baffles Congress, which had been getting the traditional votes of minorities in the communally polarised region.
Though Congress leaders dismiss the recent growth of SDPI, the political arm of the now-banned PFI, in the coastal area as negligible, they are well aware that it can make a dent in their vote-bank by weaning away Muslim votes.
“We may not win any seat in Dakshina Kannada. But our presence will be felt in the coming elections,” SDPI state general secretary Abdul Latheef Puttur told PTI.
SDPI has put up candidates in the key segments of Mangaluru (erstwhile Ullal), Bantwal and Puttur in DK where they have a significant presence. In Mangaluru and Bantwal, two former ministers U T Khader and Ramanath Rai are contesting for the Congress, while in Puttur, a newcomer from the BJP Ashok Kumar Rai has been given the party ticket.
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SDPI workers on the ground say that Khader, a four-time MLA from the segment, may scrape through with a reduced majority this time as he is likely to get Hindu votes with his moderate stand on many issues including the hijab controversy.
In Bantwal, where the BJP has renominated young leader Rajesh Naik, the situation is tougher for Congress if the SDPI garners maximum votes, they say.
In Puttur, where the SDPI has fielded Shafi Bellare, an accused in the BJP youth wing leader Praveen Nettaru’s murder, it (SDPI) is not much in the reckoning with a strong BJP rebel candidate, Arun Kumar Puthila entering the fray, which is likely to help the Congress nominee Ashok Kumar Rai.
However, they are actively campaigning in Muslim pockets and even women are taking part in house-to-house campaign in Muslim families in Puttur, a Congress worker said.
The SDPI has fielded two of its national secretaries in the key constituencies where Congress leaders are contesting. While Riyaz Farangipete is fighting against Khader, Mohammed Elyas Thumbe is facing Ramanath Rai.
Though their initial enthusiasm in the campaign has lost its steam with new issues coming up in the form of Bajrang Dal ban proposal put forth by the Congress and the intensified political fight between two major parties, SDPI workers are continuing with their door-to-door campaign in a disciplined fashion.
SDPI’s two other candidates in DK, Alphonso Franco (Moodbidri) and Akbar Ali (Belthangady), have not made much impact in the segments where the party has limited presence. The BJP and Congress are engaged in a direct fight in the two segments which have a history of changing sides.
Sitting BJP MLAs Umanath Kotian and Harish Poonja are facing Congress youth leader Mithun Rai and Rakshit Shivaram in Moodbidri and Belthangady respectively.
Haneef Mooloor (Kaup) is SDPI’s sole candidate in Udupi district, where Congress’ Vinay Kumar Sorake is engaged in a fight with BJP’s Gurme Suresh Shetty. The SDPI has only nominal presence in the segment, but can tilt the balance in the event of a tough fight.
Asked about voting in constituencies where they are not contesting, Latheef Puttur said it will be taken on constituency basis. “We will choose the winnable candidates against the BJP and vote for them. It can be a Congress candidate, Janata Dal(S), AAP or independent,” he said.
Going by this stand, Congress rebel and JD(S) candidate Mohiuddin Bava is most likely to get the SDPI votes in Mangaluru North constituency where Congress has fielded a fresh face in youth leader Inayat Ali, whose prospects will then get dimmed.
BJP leaders, who in their speeches allege the Congress is hand-in-glove with the SDPI, however, are nurturing hopes of a division in minority votes that might help them in some constituencies where the margin is thin.
“The Congress is not worried about SDPI’s presence in DK,” says U T Khader, who believes that people will not vote for their communal agenda.
He said people are more concerned about other issues like protection of their fundamental rights which the Congress raises in this election campaign.
The SDPI has only one to two per cent votes in constituencies like Mangaluru with a 2.5 lakh-strong electorate, Khader said, adding there will not be any considerable division in minority votes.
Congress DK district committee president Harish Kumar MLC said his party does not see SDPI as a threat. “We consider both BJP and SDPI as communal parties as both rely on votes based on religion. They are not secular,” he told PTI.
Kumar said minorities in the district are unlikely to vote for SDPI in the coming elections as they are bent on defeating the BJP which has scrapped the four percent reservation for Muslims. The voters know that one vote for SDPI means two votes for BJP, he said.
Kumar said he is happy that SDPI is contesting the elections as Congress had won whenever they contested. The BJP is financing the SDPI in the elections, he alleged.
The DCC president said the party is in a ‘very comfortable’ position in at least five out of the eight constituencies in DK district and the ‘negligible’ presence of SDPI cannot harm its prospects.
Besides taking up the hijab and Muslim reservation issues, the SDPI leaders are seen attacking the Congress in their speeches rather than the BJP. “It is quite natural as one communal party will only help another,” says Khader.
Facing the formidable Khader in Mangaluru, SDPI candidate Farangipete has also taken his attack to a personal level by alleging that Khader had amassed huge wealth over the years.
“U T Khader is officially the owner of Rs 3,500 crore and is unofficially the owner of Rs 10,000 crore,” he had alleged addressing party workers before filing his nomination papers.
The party’s Bantwal candidate Mohammed Eliyaz Thumbe had also attacked Congress alleging the party had ditched SDPI in the last elections by agreeing to support their candidates in three constituencies in return for the party’s support to Congress in other segments.
With only five days left for the elections, the impact of SDPI’s campaign and its influence in the two districts, described as the ‘cradle of Hindutva,’ remains to be seen.
SDPI has fielded 16 candidates in the state for the May 10 elections. They pin high hopes on Narasimharaja seat in Mysuru where the party’s state president Abdul Majeed has been fielded for a second time.
In the 2018 elections, Majeed had got over 33,000 votes in the constituency, a traditional stronghold of the Congress where its candidate Tanveer Sait is contesting for the sixth consecutive time.