According to NIA, PFI, which is at the centre of violent protests in UP, has over 50,000 regular members.(ANI File)
According to NIA, PFI, which is at the centre of violent protests in UP, has over 50,000 regular members.(ANI File)

Demand for ban on Popular Front of India revived

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has even termed it a threat to national security.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent
PUBLISHED ON JAN 01, 2020 03:35 AM IST

Popular Front of India, or PFI, the Islamic fundamentalist organisation allegedly at the centre of violent protests in Uttar Pradesh against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), has often been accused of carrying out forced conversions, radicalisation of Muslim youth and maintaining links with banned groups.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has even termed it a threat to national security. Then minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju had in January 2018 said the ministry of home affairs was considering banning the PFI -- a move the government has so far held off on.

The demand to outlaw PFI has once again been revived, this time by Uttar Pradesh police chief O P Singh, who has written to the ministry of home affairs (MHA) asking to declare the Front a proscribed organization under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA.

PFI’s national secretary Anees Ahmed said, “Everyone knows what’s happening in Uttar Pradesh, how UP police crossed all the lines to indulge in violence. Now, to hide their failures and to silence the voice of people, they are coming up with this diversion of seeking a ban on PFI. We (PFI) are not even fully operational in UP. We just have an ad-hoc committee here”.

This is not for the first time PFI has had a brush with controversy. It has been named in at least four cases by the NIA: Chopping off the palm of a professor in Kerala’s Idukki district (July 2010), murder of RSS activist Rudresh in Bengaluru (October 2016), association with the Islamic State Omar Al-Hindi module in Kochi (October 2016) and organising a training camp in Kannur from where bombs, improvised explosive devices and swords were recovered (April 2013).

NIA had also claimed in a 2016 probe that a PFI institution, Sathya Sarini, was involved in conversion of women in Kerala including Akhila Asokan, whose marriage was annulled by the high court in 2017 on the grounds submitted by NIA, to Islam. However, PFI has not been charged by the agency in this case.

Anees Ahmed said, “Why don’t they provide evidence of PFI’s role in such cases if they think PFI has a larger role? What we are seeing is a strong misinformation campaign from one side against the PFI.” Primarily based in Kerala, PFI is a successor to the National Democratic Front (NDF), started in Kozhikode in 1989 after political clashes there.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in December 1992 provided an impetus to Muslim organizations in Kerala to form resistance groups to meet the challenges from the Sangh Parivar, according to a 19-page NIA dossier on PFI. HT has a copy of dossier.

It says most of the founding members of the NDF are ex-Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) members who wanted an effective platform for their radical ideology. The formation of PFI was first announced on November 9, 2006, at Bengaluru.

It has now spread to Manipur, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and West Bengal besides having a strong presence in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Its leadership claims it has a presence in 23 states.

The PFI also has a political group – Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) -- which took part in panchayat elections in Kerala.

According to the NIA dossier, PFI has over 50,000 regular members and 100,000 to 150,000 sympathizers in Kerala, with an increase of 3% to 5 % per annum.

On its funding, the agency says PFI receives funds through the India Fraternity Forum (IFF), started almost as a counterpart of the PFI in Gulf countries. The agency claims PFI’s national leaders -- E Abubacker, A Sayed and E M Abdul Rehman -- often visit Gulf countries with the aim of discreet fund collection.

The Muslim Relief Network (MRN), a Kerala-based NGO launched by PFI, mobilizes funds, especially from Gulf countries, by receiving donations from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) in Jeddah, and has established links with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and the National Confederations of Human Rights Organisations. Besides PFI collects funds from ~10 to ~1,000 for purposes such as membership fee and Ramadan collection, according to the NIA.

The central anti-terror probe agency has also linked PFI with several left-wing extremist and dalit organizations that campaign on issues like police atrocities, fake encounters and operation Green Hunt (an all-out operation against Naxals by government and paramilitary forces post-2009).

“PFI always maintains a soft approach towards LWE {left-wing extremism} and other anti-national elements in order to ensure mutual help,” adds NIA dossier. Terming its activities “detrimental to national security,” the dossier states that the PFI has been pursuing a multi-pronged strategy aimed at communalizing the nation’s polity, enforcing a Taliban brand of Islam, heightening existing social divisions, dislodging moderate mainstream Muslim organizations from the collective mind of the community.

Internal security expert Ajai Sahni told HT, “PFI, when it had a different identity some 20-30 years back, was definitely involved in violent extremist activities. But the evidence and record for banning an organisation has to be seen from current context whether there have been recent extremist activities, ample evidence etc. I cannot comment on their current activities but yes, they have had a history.”

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