MHA mulls PFI ban for 'stoking violent' anti-CAA protests; controversial Kerala-based group has long been on NIA radar

  • The Popular Front of India (PFI), a federation that was formed in 2006 as a successor to the National Democratic Front (NDF), has come under the scanner of the Union home ministry for allegedly instigating demonstrators to clash with the Uttar Pradesh police

  • The Kerala-based organisation is also known for sharing a chequered history with the National Investigation Agency (NIA), for its alleged terror links

  • The Uttar Pradesh police has claimed that it has enough evidence to prove that the PFI members were behind the violence during the anti-CAA protests.

The Uttar Pradesh Police has sought a ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI), days after its complicity was suspected in the recent statewide violent protests against the amended citizenship law. The BJP-led government in state has accused the organisation and its political front, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) of "masterminding and instigating violence" during the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The Popular Front of India (PFI), a federation that was formed in 2006 as a successor to the National Democratic Front (NDF), has come under the scanner of the Union home ministry for allegedly instigating demonstrators to clash with the Uttar Pradesh Police. The organisation was also blamed for the violent protests in Karnataka’s Mangaluru and in West Bengal. 

The PFI, which has in the past also been linked with political killings in Kerala, is labelled by many as a 'radical Muslim' group. Though on its website, the party describes itself as a move "towards co-ordination and management of efforts for the achievement of socio-economic, cultural and political empowerment of the deprived and the downtrodden and the nation at large."

The group also denies the current allegations against its members and slams the ruling party, which, it said, "has empowered the big business houses and the urban and rural elite, as it ignored the basic needs of the people below".

 MHA mulls PFI ban for stoking violent anti-CAA protests; controversial Kerala-based group has long been on NIA radar

Police personnel clash with protestors in Rampur. PTI

Although its stronghold is in Kerala, the PFI has expanded its footprint across the country with similar-minded groups such as the Tamil Nadu-based Manitha Neethu Pasarai and the Karnataka Forum for Dignity among others.

PFI's alleged terror links

The Kerala-based organisation has a chequered past, and has been on the National Investigation Agency (NIA)'s radar for a long time, for its alleged terror links. PFI first came under the scrutiny of the agency in 2013 when the NIA had taken over a case where PFI members were accused of running arms' training camp in Kannur's Narath.

It was alleged that 22 PFI activists hatched a criminal conspiracy to impart training to some youths for using explosives and weapons, with an intention to prepare them for terrorist activities. An NIA court let off one person but found 21 others guilty under various charges. Further investigation into their funding and links with international terrorist groups is underway.

Furthermore, multiple reports suggest that between 2010 to 2013, the Kerala Police seized several country-made bombs, weapons, CDs and several documents containing Taliban and Al-Qaeda propaganda from PFI activists in a series of searches .

PFI was also accused of chopping off a college professor's hand because he set a question in a paper that was 'disrespectful' to prophet Muhammad, according to The NewsMinute.

Intelligence agencies have also dubbed the organisation an offshoot of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which was designated a terrorist organisation and subsequently banned in 2001.

Another famous case linked to the PFI was the alleged 'love jihad' case in Kerala. According to NDTV, 90 inter-faith marriages that took place in Kerala over the last two years are being examined by the central counter-terror agency. Out of the 90 cases, 23 cases were linked to individuals concerned to the PFI.

In 2018, the BJP-led Jharkhand government had banned the organisation, saying its members were “internally influenced” by the Islamic State. "Popular Front of India was started in Kerala. The members of this organisation are internally influenced by the ISIS. Inquiry by Special Branch has revealed that some members of this organisation have gone secretly to Syria from the South Indian states and (are) working for ISI,” a state government notification quoted by The Indian Express read.

PFI'S suspected role in anti-CAA protests

PFI has denied all allegations regarding its alleged involvement in triggering violence during the anti-CAA protests in Uttar Pradesh. In a statement, PFI's general secretary M Muhammed Ali Jinnah said the allegations were "absurd" and a "face-saving act" by the Uttar Pradesh Police.

Times Now reported  that the organisation has also come under the scanner in West Bengal, after Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. The report suggests that the PFI has planned to hold a mega rally in the violence-hit Murshidabad area on 5 January. Sources suggest that the intelligence agencies have been trying to identify people who have been operating under the banner of PFI. They say that they have evidence that PFI has clear backing from AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) party.

The Uttar Pradesh Police has claimed that it has enough evidence to prove that the PFI members were behind the violence during the anti-CAA protests. The home department of the state government has written a letter to the Union home ministry on Monday seeking a ban on the organisation. State cabinet minister Mohsin Raza had claimed that the PFI was created by those who were involved with SIMI. "Those who were involved with SIMI, after its ban made a new organization, PFI," he told ANI. 

According to PTI, UP DGP OP Singh on Tuesday had said that they had written to the Union Home Ministry, seeking a ban on the PFI after its Uttar Pradesh head, Wasim, and 16 other activists were arrested for allegedly "masterminding" the violence in the state capital during anti-CAA protests.

Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh police have arrested 25 members of the PFI from various districts in connection with the violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Lucknow and other criminal activities

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had also said that the role of PFI is coming forward in violence and the home ministry will decide on an action against the organisation based on evidence

The PFI in a statement published on its website slammed the BJP-led Centre for trying to "suppress protests by calling in violent".  It further said: "In most of the states the police were respectful of people's democratic rights to dissent. Only in Yogi Adityanath ruled Uttar Pradesh, police brazenly turned protests into bloodbath and destruction."

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 02, 2020 19:05:10 IST