In a major step to root out religious fanaticism, the Government of India on Tuesday banned the radical Popular Front of India (PFI) and its affiliate organisations for a period of five years and declared them ‘unlawful’ under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
This followed the nationwide crackdown on PFI leaders in two phases. On Tuesday, in a nationwide crackdown from 3 am to 11 am, more than 300 PFI activists were rounded up in Delhi, UP, MP, Maharashtra, Assam, Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat. In UP, 57 activists were arrested from Meerut, Bulandhshar, Lucknow, Kanpur and Ghaziabad.
PFI had been under the radar of security agencies after violent protests took place in several towns, along with charges of radicalizing Muslim youths, money laundering and maintaining links with terror groups. Following the ban, security has been tightened outside BJP and RSS offices across India, and police has been put on high alert in Delhi, Mumbai and several cities of UP.
The PFI affiliates banned, include Rehab India Foundation, Campus Front of India, All India Imams council, National Confederation of Human Rights Organization, National Women’s Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation and Rehab Foundation, Kerala.
In its notification, the Home Ministry has alleged that some of PFI’s founding members are the leaders of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), and PFI has linkages with Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, both of which are banned organizations. The notification also said, “There had been a number of instances of international linages of PFI with global terrorist groups like Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)”.
The ministry said, “PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts have been working covertly to increase radicalization of cone community by promoting a sense of insecurity in the country, which is substantiated by the fact that some PFI cadres have joined international terrorist organizations.”
The notification said, “PFI is involved in several criminal and terror cases and shows sheer disrespect towards the constitutional authority of the country, and with funds and ideological support from outside, it has become a major threat to internal security of the country.”
Official sources pointed out Improvised Explosive Device (IED) making manual was seized from PFI leader Mohammed Nadeem in Barabanki, UP, and another manual titled “A short course on how to make IEDs using easily available materials” was seized from PFI leader Ahmed Beg Nadwi in Khadra, UP.
Sources said, two Lowrance LHR-80 floating marine handheld VHF/GPS radio and navigator sets were recovered from the home of Barkatullah, SDPI’s Ramnad district president, in Tamil Nadu, while a diary was recovered by Enforcement Directorate from PFI chairman O.M.A. Salam’s close associate Mohammed Ismail which revealed a sinister plot “to create a civil war like situation” in India.
Official sources also pointed out that two senior PFI leaders P. Koya and E. M. Abdul Rahman were privately hosted by IHH, an Al-Qaeda-linked Turkish charity organisation. NIA has seized several “incriminating documents” which point out to PFI’s aim of establishing an Islamic State in India, with the help of terror outfits from abroad.
Weapons and a huge amount of cash were seized from several senior PFI leaders, sources said. Brochures and CDs relating to PFI’s ‘Mission 2047’ (for converting India into an Islamic State) were seized from the Maharashtra unit vice-president of PFI. Pen drives containing videos related to ISIS, ‘Gajwa-e-Hind’(Islamic state in India) were seized from PFI leaders in UP.
The 16-year-old PFI has its presence in more than 17 states of India. Official sources said PFI encourages its cadre to resort to violence and disrupt the secular fabric of India. Over 1,300 criminal cases have been registered by police and NIA against PFI and its front organisations in different states. Sources pointed out that PFI cadres had a hand in the murder of Sanjith, an RSS worker in Kerala in November last year.
In Tamil Nadu, PFI activists killed a Hindu leader V. Ramalingam for challenging its ‘Dawah’ (religious) activities in 2019. PFI activists had brutally chopped the hand of professor T. J. Joseph in Kerala for alleged blasphemy in 2010. In Kerala, the Padam forest area was being used by PFI as a site to impart military training to its cadre, sources pointed out.
While UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Maharashtra deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis, Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai and other BJP leaders welcomed the ban, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi described it as “draconian”, though he said he did not agree with the approach of PFI. In a series of tweets, Owaisi said, “A draconian ban of this kind is dangerous as it is a ban on any Muslim who wishes to speak his mind. ..I have opposed UAPA and I will always oppose all actions under UAPA.”
The Congress party took a middle line. Jairam Ramesh, the party leader in charge of communication, said, his party was against all forms of communalism, whether minority or majority. “The Congress policy has always been to fight uncompromisingly all ideologies and institutions that abuse religion for polarising our society, that misuse religion to spread prejudice, hate, bigotry and violence”, he tweeted. RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav said, “they keep raising the bogey of PFI. It is the RSS, which advocates Hindu extremism, and deserves to be banned first.”
Political remarks notwithstanding, the fact remains that the banning of PFI and its affiliates was a timely move. The designs of PFI leaders were evil and they are past masters in dodging the law. PFI leaders and activists have been spreading hate through social media and their communication network acts at a fast pace.
The crackdown on PFI, its political wing and the students’ wing had been planned for several months, with the help of inputs from the Intelligence Bureau, and the entire operation was coordinated by NIA with the assistance of state police networks. Under UAPA, all those arrested will be given 15 days’ time to disclose whether they have an association with PFI and its outfits. They will also be given 30 days’ time to prove that their place of residence has not been used for terror and violent activities. In the absence of this, they may have to spend at least two years in jail and will also be liable for fine, under the provisions of UAPA.
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