Popular Front of India: From 'social' outfit to facing ban

According to sources in the know of the matter, the Central government is planning to ban the Popular Front of India.

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On February 16, 2007, PFI organised a three-day “Empower India Conference” in Bangalore to discuss and conduct awareness sessions on the need for empowerment for independence, freedom and justice for common people. (File photo)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The PFI was formed in 2007 through the merger of three Muslim organisations.
  • Over the years, PFI grew in numbers and spread across the country
  • Currently, the PFI has offices across 22 states and union territories.

The Popular Front of India (PFI) that came into existence as a non-profit organisation with an aim to fight for the rights of minorities, Dalits, and marginalised communities is now on the verge of getting banned for allegedly indulging in actions detrimental to the overall national security.

In the ‘largest-ever’ investigation, the crackdown on PFI on Thursday across India debunks the outfit’s claims of being a neo-social movement committed to empowering people to ensure justice, freedom, and security.

According to sources, the central government is now considering banning the outfit.

Also Read: 10 states, over 100 held: PFI chief arrested in massive crackdown on terror links

The PFI was formed in 2007 through the merger of three Muslim organisations. The National Democratic Front in Kerala, Karnataka Forum for Dignity in Karnataka, and the Manitha Neethi Pasarai in Tamil Nadu got merged in 2007 into PFI. The decision to merge the three outfits took place in November 2006 at Kozhikode in Kerala.

On February 16, 2007, PFI organised a three-day “Empower India Conference” in Bangalore to discuss and conduct awareness sessions on the need for empowerment for independence, freedom and justice for common people.

Over the years, PFI grew in numbers and spread across the country. Currently, the PFI has offices across 22 states and union territories. OMA Salam, the chairman of the outfit, had claimed that there are around 4 lakh cadres across the country.

After coming into existence, SDPI claimed that it was founded as the political platform for the advancement of the people of India, particularly the weaker and marginalised sections of the society. “The SDPI wants a complete revamp of the system. Grassroots level democracy and empowerment of people are fundamental to this change,” SDPI had stated.

But over the years, PFI started gaining acclaim as an “Islamist extremist group”. The law enforcement agencies even started questioning its formation. It is alleged that the PFI emerged in the aftermath of the ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) after a few of the founder members' associations with SIMI came to the limelight.

SIMI was banned in September 2001 and all its records, materials and offices were seized. Its members were arrested and jailed.

ALLEGED TERROR ACTIVITIES

The law enforcement agencies found that since its inception, the PFI was allegedly involved in inciting violence, possessing arms, and propagating extremism. The outfit's violent activities came into the limelight when its members chopped off the right hand of TJ Joseph, a professor of Malayalam, on July 4, 2010, for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed in an internal question paper that Joseph had set.

Just after five years since its inception, the Kerala government claimed that the PFI was “nothing but a resurrection of the banned outfit SIMI in another form”. In an affidavit in the Kerala High Court in 2012, the state government stated that PFI members were involved in 27 cases of murder, mostly of CPM and RSS cadres, 86 attempt to murder cases and more than 125 cases of whipping up communal passions. In 2013, police arrested 21 members of the outfit from the state, however, violent clashes never stopped. The violent clashes between RSS and PFI members still continue.

In 2017, police arrested two PFI activists in connection with the stabbing of RSS worker Sharath Madivala, 28, in Bantwal town of Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka. The alleged violence spread across the country. The agency alleged that the outfit members were involved in love jihad, Delhi riots, killing of political leaders and activists across the country.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) in an internal report in 2018 stated that the members of the outfit pursue a strategy aimed at enforcing the Taliban brand of Islam, communalising Indian polity, and maintaining volunteers for attacks.

In a controversy in Karnataka where six female students claimed they were not allowed to enter classrooms wearing hijab, the state government stated that the agitation against the hijab was part of a "larger conspiracy" orchestrated by the PFI to create social unrest.

In Phulwari Sharif terror module case, Bihar Police seized a seven-page document on an alleged plan to “establish the rule of Islam in India by 2047” from PFI members.

In investigations into the Udaipur killing of Kanhaiya Lal for supporting Nupur Sharma, the NIA stated that the accused had links with the PFI.

In Assam, local police have established a link between the PFI and the Bangladesh-based Islamic terror group, Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), during an investigation pertaining to the recent crackdown on the ABT module.

CRACKDOWN ON PFI

Seeing alleged violent activities of PFI, the Ministry of Home Affairs in October 2017 held several rounds of meetings to decide whether the outfit should be banned or not. The ministry also reviewed all the cases where members of the PFI were involved. However, no decision has been taken on the matter so far.

On May 8, 2018, the Enforcement Directorate started cracking down on the PFI. The financial probing agency booked PFI under criminal charges of money laundering for its alleged links with terror activities and funding.

Subsequently, the BJP-run state governments started taking action against the PFI.

In 2018, the Jharkhand government started a crackdown on the PFI. They banned the outfit in the state saying its members were “internally influenced” by the IS. “Inquiry by Special Branch has revealed that some members of this organisation have gone secretly to Syria from the South Indian states and (are) working for ISIS,” the state government said. However, the ban was lifted after PFI approached the high court.

A PIL filed in Madras High Court in 2018 seeking direction to the Tamil Nadu government to ban PFI terming it as a "radical" outfit indulged in activities aimed at disturbing peace and harmony of the country was dismissed.

In December 2019, Uttar Pradesh police called for a ban on the PFI after police arrested 25 members of the outfit for involvement in propagating riots across the state during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Also Read: All forms of communalism, violence should be combatted: Rahul Gandhi reacts to PFI raids

The Karnataka government in August 2020 was considering banning PFI and its political arm SDPI.

Despite the state governments' demand to ban the PFI claiming its members were involved in alleged terror activities, the Central government has so not taken any concrete decision in this regard.

WAY TO BAN THE OUTFIT

The outfit can be banned under Section 3 of The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. If the central government is of the opinion that any association is, or has become, an unlawful association, it may, by notification in the official gazette, declare the organisation to be unlawful. The notification shall specify the grounds on which it is issued.

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