The Opposition in Karnataka tried to corner the state government on Wednesday over its decision to drop dozens of criminal cases against members of a controversial rightwing Muslim group, as parties accused the ruling Congress of “minority appeasement”.
Most of the 1,600 beneficiaries of the government move are members of the Popular Front of India (PFI) that gained national notoriety five years ago when its alleged activists chopped off a professor’s hand in Kerala for blasphemy.
The BJP’s youth wing took out a procession and staged a sit-in outside the deputy police commissioner’s office on Wednesday, though state law minister TB Jaychandra defended the government’s decision.
“All the 1,600 persons are not Muslims or members of the PFI. There are many Hindus among them also. Many elderly and immobile people, too, had been falsely accused of rioting,” he said.
All these cases were filed between 2009 and 2011 when the BJP was in power in the state.
But amid the party’s protests, political observers pointed to the previous government's decision to drop 307 rioting cases against 4,300 activists of hard-line Hindu outfits such as the Bajrang Dal, ABVP and VHP.
“After SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) was banned, terrorists formed the PFI. By trying to appease minorities, the Congress government is compromising national security,” said BJP spokesperson CT Ravi who has several hate-speech and rioting cases against his name. “Hindu organisations cannot be compared to outfits like the PFI. We are patriots and they are terror front organisations.”
The PFI was born in 2006 through the merger of three Muslim organisations from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, and reportedly has about 80,000 members and sympathisers across India.
Analysts say while there is no official record linking the PFI to terror outfits, its participation in communal violence and a raging turf battle with Hindu groups is well documented in the polarised districts of North and Coastal Karnataka.
Asked to provide proof of the PFI’s SIMI connections, Ravi said, “It is well known.”
Members of the outfit, which was called the Karnataka Forum for Dignity in the state until 2006, have often been accused of carrying out vigilante attacks against Hindu-Muslim couples in Udupi and Mangaluru.
“The PFI pretends like its number one enemy is the Sangh, but the fact is that it is equally opposed to secular and progressive thought. Many activists of our organiation too have been threatened and attacked by PFI activists,” said Muneer Katipalla, state president of the leftwing Democratic Youth Federation of India. “The Congress is trying to protect minority communalism in the name of protecting minority interests. These are two different things.”