Following the massive nationwide crackdown on the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its top leaders, the Union government on Wednesday banned the organisation and eight of its affiliated outfits under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
The action of the Central government came days after a countrywide crackdown on the 16-year-old PFI, arrest of over a hundred of its activities and seizure of several dozen properties.
What is PFI?
The PFI came into being in 2007. The organisation came into being following the merger of three Muslim organisations – the National Democratic Front (NDF) in Kerala, the Karnataka Forum for Dignity and the Manitha Neethi Pasarai in Tamil Nadu.
It came into being after the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI )was banned by the Centre in 2001. It does not field candidates in elections. PFI is similar to Hindu right-wing outfits like the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in that it does social work for Muslims.
It also claims it works for the marginalised, minorities and those in the Scheduled Castes.
Two years after PFI was formed, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) was formed from within the organisation to take up the political issues. The latest ban on PFI will not impact SDPI, because it is a registered political party, which comes under the purview of the Election Commission.
Why was PFI banned?
In a late Tuesday night notification, the Union Home Ministry said some of the PFI's founding members are the leaders of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the PFI has linkages with Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Both JMB and SIMI are proscribed organisations. It said there had been many instances of international linkages of PFI with global terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts have been working covertly to increase the radicalisation of one community by promoting a sense of insecurity in the country, which is substantiated by the fact that some PFI cadres have joined international terrorist organisations, the notification claimed.
"Whereas, the Central government, having regard to the above circumstances, is of the firm opinion that it is necessary to declare the PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts association outlawed with immediate effect, and accordingly, in exercise of the powers conferred by the proviso to sub-section (3) of section 3 of the said Act, declares it as outlawed," it said.
The Home Ministry said Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat governments had also recommended a ban on PFI. It claimed that PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts have been involved in violent terrorist activities with an intent to create a reign of terror in the country, thereby endangering the security and public order of the state. The PFI, the notification alleged, is encouraging and trying to enforce a terror-based regressive regime, continue to propagate anti-national sentiments and radicalising a particular section of society to create disaffection against the country, aggravating activities which are detrimental to the integrity, security and sovereignty of the country.
The home ministry claimed investigations have established clear linkages between PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts.
It said Rehab India Foundation collects funds through PFI members. Some PFI members are also members of Campus Front of India, Empower India Foundation, and Rehab Foundation, Kerala. The activities of Junior Front, All India Imams Council. National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation and National Women's Front are monitored/coordinated by the PFI leaders, the notification claimed.
PFI created these associates or affiliates or fronts to enhance its reach among different sections of the society such as the youth, students, women, Imams, lawyers or weaker sections of the society with the sole objective of expanding its membership, influence and fund-raising capacity, it said.
The Centre, through another notification, empowered the state governments to take action against these groups which were affiliated with the PFI and the possible action against them could be seizure of places and arrest of their members.The home ministry said these associates or affiliates or fronts have a 'hub and spoke' relationship. PFI acts as the hub and utilises the mass outreach and fund-raising capacity of its associates or affiliates or fronts to strengthen its capability for unlawful activities and these associates or affiliates or fronts function as "roots and capillaries through which the PFI is fed and strengthened", the ministry claimed. The PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts operate openly as socio-economic educational and political organisations. But they have been pursuing a secret agenda to radicalise a particular section of the society, working towards undermining the concept of democracy and showing sheer disrespect towards the constitutional authority and constitutional setup of the country, it alleged. Investigations in various cases have revealed that the PFI and its cadres have been repeatedly engaging in violent and subversive acts, the ministry claimed. Criminal violent acts carried out by PFI include chopping off the limbs of a college professor, cold-blooded killings of persons associated with organisations espousing other faiths, obtaining explosives to target prominent people and places and destruction of public property, it said.
What does the ban mean?
The ban makes PFI a terrorist organisation and would cripple its funding, recruitment, and other activities. Anyone found associating with the banned organisations can be arrested for terror charges.
PFI and its office bearers would not be able to organise protests, seminars, conferences, donation exercises, or come up with publications. This is because after the ban order, Central agencies and the state police can immediately declare the activities illegal.
The bank accounts, properties, and offices of the PFI and associated organisations could be seized or attached and there will be travel restrictions on its office-bearers.
PFI's clout in Kerala
The organisation has the most clout in Kerala where it has multiple cases filed against members of the organisation for incidents of murder, intimidation, rioting and for its connections with terror outfits.
In fact, the infamous hand chop case of a Kerala college lecturer TJ Joseph in July 2010 was one of the several cases used as a reference by the NIA for its nationwide crackdown on Popular Front of India PFI offices throughout the country.
The hand chop case in which Joseph, Malayalam lecturer of Newman College, Thodupuzha was attacked and his right hand chopped off is one of the most chilling cases involving the PFI reported in Kerala.
The state also witnessed widespread violence on Friday after PFI called for a lightning hartal to protest the NIA crackdown.
However, Muslim League, has welcomed the ban on PFI. Senior leader and former state minister M K Muneer said that PFI has to be opposed ideologically. “Even RSS was banned earlier. But they came back stronger. Hence such organisations have to be opposed ideologically,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
(With PTI inputs.)