Kerala’s notoriously violent politics certainly contributed to the rise of the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI). Starting from Kerala, it became a pan-India movement. With the passage of time, their agenda of empowering Muslims was now set towards achieving political goals with violence as an integral part of it.
It’s tall political ambitions were furthered through the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), a political wing of PFI. Though the SDPI always portrayed itself as a separate entity, there is no denial to the fact that it was established as a result of the PFI’s national political convention in 2009. Making forays into electoral politics, SDPI contested on several assembly seats in the 2016 Kerala assembly elections but received less than 1% of the total votes polled in the state. PFI leader C P Muhammad Basheer then asserted that the Front believed in the country’s constitution, and they were for empowering the Muslim community in the region.
In the past decade, PFI has grown manifold, with popularity in Kerala scaling a new high. This even at times made Congress and CPI (M) jittery. The two found PFI having the potential to erode their traditional vote bank.
But participation in democratic elections has never been a deterrent for PFI that has always furthered the violence as means to achieve its goals.
There have been several accounts of violence instigated by the PFI in Kerala. One of PFI’s infamous attacks involved the amputation of a professor’s hand who was accused of “hurting the religious emotions” of certain Muslim students through his comments about the Prophet. TJ Joseph, a lecturer at Mahatma Gandhi University’s Newman College, added a question in a Malayalam exam that some students found offensive. The lecturer was arrested on suspicion of inciting racial animosity but was later granted bail and proven innocent of charge. On July 4, 2010, just a few days after being released, a gang of eight men stopped Joseph’s car and severed his right hand. Police investigated the case and arrested 37 PFI members. A special NIA court convicted 13 persons owing allegiance to the PFI in 2015 due to the NIA’s investigation into the case.
This is not the only incident, PFI activists were also involved in a number of other attacks. In 2012, PFI members were actively involved in 27 murder cases, where most of the murdered were cadres of CPI-M and RSS, according to a Kerala government report presented to the Kerala High Court.
They were also into conversions. AS Zainaba, president of the National Women’s Front, admitted coordinating forced conversions to Islam at Sathya Sarani, an educational and philanthropic organisation connected to PFI.
Its radical thoughts are revealed through the fact that some of its members have joined international terrorist organisations like the Islamic State. Shajeer Mangalassery Abdulla, a Kerala citizen, supported the PFI’s political wing, the SDPI and was charged by the NIA with recruiting for the Islamic State in Afghanistan (SDPI). Safwan Pookatail, a graphic designer for the PFI house periodical Thejas, and Manseed Bin Mohamed, a researcher on Hindu nationalism for the now-banned organisation, are allegedly among Shajeer’s recruits.
Muhammad Sameer, who is of Kannur origin, is thought to have taken his wife Fauziya and three children to the Islamic State caliphate in Syria, where they are believed to be imprisoned in a prison camp after his death. Muhammad Sameer previously held the position of sub-divisional convenor for the PFI under the name Valapattanam.
In 2016, a special NIA court in Kerala found 21 PFI members guilty in of organising a terror camp in Kannur in 2013. In 2017, the NIA also requested a ban on the organisation in an extensive report given to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
From Kerala, PFI also started furthering his nefarious designs in other parts of the country. The PFI began “popping up on the radar of the Karnataka Police” for numerous crimes over ten years ago. Similarly,
Athar Parvez and Mohammad Jalaluddin, a former sub-inspector of the Jharkhand Police, were taken into custody for running an organisation where merely educated and manipulated Muslim students were taught to handle weapons and participate in terrorist activities. Their statements also paved the way for the unfolding of other anti-national resources. Their objective was not only to eliminate Prime Minister Narendra Modi but also the entire country’s system.
In response to the finding of purported PFI connections in several states, an action plan was developed on August 4. In most states, including Karnataka, Kerala, and Madhya Pradesh, there was clear evidence of a connection between PFI and SIMI. The National Investigation Agency also conducted searches in the Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu and the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka in connection with a case regarding the Popular Front of India’s (PFI) participation in “anti-national actions.” During this time, important information was uncovered during searches of the suspects’ homes, including digital devices and paperwork.
The NIA and ED then carried out significant raids at 93 locations across 15 states on September 22, named Operation Octopus. 106 members of PFI and groups connected to it were detained during the extensive searches.
Following raids, PFI declared a bandh in many states, including Kerala. This highlighted how deeply ingrained PFI was in Kerala. The ED claimed in the remand note of PFI employee Shafiq Pythe, who was arrested in Kozhikode, that Shafiq Pythe sponsored a plot to attack the Prime Minister’s rally in Patna on July 12. According to the investigative agency, the organisation allegedly established a training camp to prepare assailants to kill the PM.
On September 28, the Indian government outlawed PFI for 5 years. National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation, National Women’s Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation and Rehab Foundation, Kerala were also placed in the list of the organisations outlawed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The government claims that the members of PFI and its affiliated groups obtained money from India and abroad through banking channels, hawala, and charitable donations, among other means. In a report presented to the Union minister of home affairs in 2017 the NIA had also recommended a ban on the PFI. States like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka voiced similar arguments.
PFI has more than 140 offices in Kerala. All being run in a hushed manner. Additionally, the Popular Front of India’s Twitter account was deactivated. “PFI Official’s account has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand,” the Twitter page said.
Reports claim that on October 4, the state police chief received a list from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of 873 officers who may have connections to the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI). According to the study, these police officers provided the PFI with crucial information prior to searches and after the bandh, which sparked widespread violence in the state. However, the Police have denied the accusation and also stated that none of their officials have any relations with PFI.
Meanwhile, the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) has decided to terminate the service of PFI chairman OMA Salam. “Salam, working as the senior audit officer in Manjeri (Malappuram), was suspended from December 14, 2020”. “Termination was initiated against Salam under government service rules after his arrest by the NIA on September 22,” a senior KSEB official stated.
“The decision to outlaw PFI was political and had to do with national security. The political leaders, organisational representatives, and other impartial parties are the ones to express their thoughts on the issue. Observing silence was sometimes better than always talking,” stated TJ Joseph, who lost his hand and his wife in an alleged blasphemy instigated by the PFI.
It’s not the right moment to disparage the efforts and throw doubt on the crackdown by calling it an “election gimmick,” Instead, it is time to comprehend why PFI is a conduit for terrorism, how its predatory activities has harmed the society and why every Indian citizen should recognise the government’s relentless approach towards bringing down such extremists’ organisations that mislead a large community and instigate violence……….. (This is the concluding article as part of our series on PFI)