A left-leaning Muslim movement with wide appeal in south India — the Popular Front of India — now looks to plant its feet firmly in the north, the east and the west. "We want to be all over, for minority empowerment," says its chairman EM Abdul Rahiman, a former librarian from Kerala.
But in its journey so far, the front has earned more barbs than bouquets.
When the arm of a Kerala professor was cut off for his "blasphemy", some of the front’s men got arrested. Many consider the front, with its stress on physical training, as the Muslim equivalent of the Hindu right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. A WikiLeaks cable described it as India's only staunch anti-imperialist organisation.
Its cadre have often accused of trying to impose an austere form of Islam. The front itself was dubbed a "terrorist organisation" by the Kerala government, which was rejected by the Supreme Court.
Accusations, however, have had no impact on the front's expansion. It symbolically shifted its base to New Delhi from Bangalore three months ago.
Now, it is set to hold a three-day social justice conference at Delhi's Ramlila Grounds from November 25-27, where prominent Muslim and non-Muslim have been invited to speak, including former diplomat Syed Shahabuddin and Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party.
"Muslims of the north talk a lot, do nothing. I have heard about the good work the front has done in the south, like running big institutions and colleges," says Shamim Akhtar, a student in Delhi's Jamia Milia Islamia.
Rahiman says the front's goals are not illegal, anti-national or anti-social. "We talk about justice and equal rights. Such is the prejudice against us that our cadre have been barred from holding Independence Day parades," says Thanveer, a cadre.