Lessons from SIMI ban in PFI case

Published on Sep 29, 2022 12:57 AM IST

The union home ministry has effectively banned the Popular Front of India (PFI) for five years and most of its top leadership has already been arrested following last week’s crackdown by the investigative agencies

D Shivanandan is the Retd. Director General of Police (DGP), Maharashtra, former Police Commissioner of Mumbai and Joint Director of CBI and IB. (HT)
D Shivanandan is the Retd. Director General of Police (DGP), Maharashtra, former Police Commissioner of Mumbai and Joint Director of CBI and IB. (HT)
ByD Sivanandhan

Those arrested include PFI chairman O.M.A. Salam, vice-chairman E.M. Abdul Rahiman, national secretary V.P. Nazarudheen Elamaram, Kerala state chief C.P. Mohd Basheer, national council member Prof. P. Koya and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) founder-president E. Abubakar. They have been booked under various sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Some of those arrested are former members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) organisation.

The allegations against the PFI range from conducting anti-national activities, including collecting funds from India and abroad for committing terrorist act, organising training camps for providing armed training and radicalising people to join banned organisations like ISIS.

Formed in 2007, PFI emerged as an off-shoot organisation of SIMI after it was banned by the Government of India (GoI) in 2001. Since its formation, PFI has maintained that it is an organisation which fights for human rights, especially the rights of minorities, Dalits, and marginalized communities.

Over a period of 15 years, PFI has spread its presence across the country. It has various units including the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) which looks after its political ideology, Campus Front of India – its student wing, National Women’s Front, Rehab India Foundation – an NGO and Empower India Foundation - their think tank.

Intelligence reports in the past have indicated that PFI has its roots in the National Democratic Front (NDF) a radical Islamic outfit formed in 1993 in response to the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992. NDF was reportedly formed by banned members of Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

PFI has been on the radar of various state and central agencies for several years now, especially when its name got associated with some very serious cases in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and other parts of the country. As a group, PFI is always protesting any action taken by the government of India under the UAPA against an individual or a group. It is also known to be a sympathiser of several Islamic terror organisations across the world.

The question that arises after Wednesday’s action is whether a ban will ensure that PFI’s alleged terror activities are curbed once and for all.

When SIMI was banned in 2001, its known associates came under the police radar and were arrested, externed or in some cases kept under control, but those who remained anonymous, went underground, and resurfaced with new outfits like the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and PFI among others. Will banning PFI have the same result? Will its members go underground and then resurface with a new outfit?

If the experience of SIMI ban is anything to go by, then a ban of PFI will have its fair share of desired effect. Banning an organisation gives the authorities power to check and curb any activities of that organisation and people associated with it. Police and other agencies can act under various laws including the UAPA. Bank accounts, offices and units can be seized and sealed. It also serves as a deterrent to others who might be inclined to follow their path.

Formed in 1977 in Aligarh, UP, SIMI had become a big organisation with its presence all over the country. It was also involved and named in several cases across the country, including terror related cases. While the government had managed to identify and ban some of its members, the organisation itself was not banned till 2001. After the September 11, 2001, terror attack in the United States of America (USA), GoI banned SIMI and the ban continues till date. The ban destroyed SIMI’s presence on the ground. All the known associates, addresses, locations, units, bank accounts, offices were sealed and seized. It dealt a body blow to SIMI, and it was never able to resurrect.

A major challenge which NIA and other agencies may face if PFI is banned is that PFI does not maintain a record of its members making it difficult for authorities to identify individuals who are members and act against them. The fear is that these anonymous members who manage to escape the clutches of NIA or other agencies, may resurface in a new avatar and a new outfit in a few months or years later. Similar to what happened after SIMI was banned.

Another big challenge is that with the help of technology, these banned outfits and their members can remain anonymous and underground and continue to spread their message, propaganda, and radicalisation work. The NIA and other agencies will have their work cut-out to keep a track of all online activities of these outfits and their members, especially the ones who remain anonymous.

The writer is the Retd. Director General of Police (DGP), Maharashtra, former Police Commissioner of Mumbai and Joint Director of CBI and IB.

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