Indian Opposition Leaders Question Ban on PFI: They demand the Modi govt to present evidence

Ubair ul Hameed | 

A large number of political leaders from the Opposition parties have unanimously questioned the Indian government’s decision to ban the Popular Front of India.

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The former chief minister of Bihar Lalu Prasad Yadav demanded that the RSS should also be banned.

“Government has created the hype of PFI, RSS should be banned. It is a worse organization,” Lalu said while being asked about the ban.

Member of Parliament from Hyderabad, Assadudin Owaisi asserted that he has consistently backed a democratic approach while opposing PFI’s radical and extreme approach.

“This ban on PFI cannot be supported because actions of some individuals who commit crimes do not mean that the organization itself must be banned. The Supreme Court also has held that mere association with an organization is not enough to convict someone,” he said.

He said, “every Muslim youth will now be arrested with a PFI pamphlet under India’s black law, UAPA.” He further stated “how come PFI is banned but organizations associated with convicts of Khaja Ajmeri bomb blasts aren’t? Why has the government not banned right-wing majoritarian organisations?”

Former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was one of the Congress leaders who called for similar measures against the RSS, claiming that they too were upsetting social harmony.

Lalan Singh, the national head of the JD(U) questioned the ban while demanding that the Indian government must provide a reason for the establishment of the ban.

Lalan said that If any proof was discovered against the PFI, the state government in Bihar would offer assistance. “The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Central Government must now, however, justify the reason behind the restriction they have imposed,” he said.

Reacting to the ban, stalwart Communist leader, Sitaram Yechury, said political isolation, not banning organisations like the PFI, was the solution.

Yechury said the RSS was banned thrice and that has not stopped it from functioning.

“So ban is not a solution. In the past also, banned organisations came up with a new name,” said Yechury while speaking to the media.

“All forms of terror activities should be stopped and so should the bulldozer politics,” he added.

The CPM said the “notification of the PFI as an unlawful association under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is not the way to tackle this problem. Experience has shown that bans on organisations like the RSS and the Maoists were not effective. There has to be firm administrative action under the existing laws against the PFI whenever it indulges in illegal or violent activities. Its sectarian and divisive ideology must be exposed and fought politically among the people.”

“There are also extremist organisations like the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, elements of whom have been implicated in the killings of noted secular writers and personalities. All these forces, whether they represent the extremist majority or minority groups, must be combated by utilizing the regular laws of the land and by firm administrative action,” the party added.

CPI general secretary D Raja said in a Twitter post, “Ban on PFI is not a solution to the larger issue of communal polarisation in the country. RSS was banned but continued with polarisation, violence, and politics of hatred through fringes. SIMI was banned. Lesson: promote harmony, defeat polarisation. Oppose terrorism of all shades!”.

What is PFI?

Formed in 2006, the PFI describes itself “as a non-governmental social organisation whose stated objective is to work for the poor and disadvantaged people in the country and to oppose oppression and exploitation”.

It grew extremely popular in Kerala. But the rest of the country got to know about PFI when its alleged members chopped off the right hand of TJ Joseph, a Professor in Kerala for allegedly blaspheming Prophet Mohammad and Quran in July 2010.

The National Development Front (NDF), a contentious organisation founded in Kerala shortly after the Babri mosque was destroyed in 1992, combined with two other southern organisations to form the PFI. It expanded during the following few years as new organisations from all around India combined with it.

The PFI, which is active in more than 20 Indian states at the moment and is particularly strong in Kerala and Karnataka, claims that its cadre strength is in the “hundreds of thousands.”

The Popular Front of India (PFI) has questioned the ban, alleging that there was not a shred of evidence against the group connecting it with terror activities.

The Central government banned PFI whose leaders and offices were searched by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in states all over the nation on September 27.

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, was invoked by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to impose a five-year ban on the PFI and its affiliated organisations, including the Rehab India Foundation (RIF) and Campus Front of India.

The notification said that “the PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts operate openly as a socio-economic, educational and political organization but, they have been pursuing a secret agenda to radicalize a particular section of the society working towards undermining the concept of democracy and show sheer disrespect towards the constitutional authority and constitutional set up of the country”.

“The PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts have been indulging in unlawful activities, which are prejudicial to the integrity, sovereignty, and security of the country and have the potential of disturbing public peace and communal harmony of the country and supporting militancy in the country,” the notification said.

Accordingly, with “immediate effect,” the central government has decided to deem the PFI and its many fronts to be an “unlawful association.”

The ban came after massive searches and raids were carried out on properties linked to the Popular Front of India (PFI) by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) related to five Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA) cases, one of which was registered in April 2022.

The Central government has said that it has “credible information” about the office bearers and members of the PFI, who were raising money from India and abroad to “commit terrorist acts”.

The NIA claimed that the PFI has a huge role in “recruiting Muslim youth to proscribed organisations like ISIS”. Another charge against the PFI is that it trained its members to commit acts of terrorism.

During the raids, NIA was accompanied by Enforcement Directorate (ED). The ED had claimed that the “PFI was covertly mobilizing funds through well-organized networks in Gulf countries,” after attaching Rupees 68.62 lakh under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2022.

“Foreign remittances into the bank accounts of sympathizers/office bearers/members and their relatives /associates in India, and thereafter these funds were transferred to the bank accounts of PFI, RIF (Rehab India Foundation) and other individuals/entities”. The funds were being “used to carry out various unlawful activities”, the ED said.

Furthermore, the state governments of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Gujarat advocated the ban, and the Centre said as much in its announcement outlawing PFI and its fronts.

PFI’s reaction

“As law-abiding citizens of the country, we accept the decision of the Home Ministry,” the general secretary of PFI Abdul Sattar said in a statement.

“The PFI has been working with a clear vision for the socio-economic and cultural empowerment of the underprivileged, downtrodden, and marginalised sections of the society for the past three decades. But as law-abiding citizens of our great country, the organisation accepts the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs. It also informs all its former members and the general public that the Popular Front of India has been disbanded. All members of the Popular Front of India are requested to cease their activities since the publication of the notification,’’ Sattar said.

The government, according to Mohammed Tahir, a lawyer for the PFI, “failed to present evidence” that the group received foreign funds, supported “terror” activities in India, or was responsible for the riots, assassinations, and other crimes it is accused of orchestrating in Indian cities.

President of the organization’s Tamil Nadu unit, Mohammed Shaik Ansari called the ban “undemocratic” and said that the organisation would legally fight the ban.

Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which was known as PFI’s political arm, has said that the ban on the Popular Front of India and its affiliated organizations is against democracy and the people enshrined in the Constitution of India.

National president MK Faizi said, “It is a direct attack on the rights of anyone who speaks out against the wrong and anti-people policies of the BJP government and has faced arrests and threats of raids”.

“The BJP government is misusing investigative agencies and laws to silence the opposition and intimidate people into not speaking out,” Faizi said.

Reaction from Muslim Groups

The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind opposed the Popular Front of India (PFI) ban on Wednesday, saying that taking action against an entire organisation “on flimsy and unsubstantiated grounds” is unjustified and undemocratic. They also questioned why other radical organisations weren’t subject to similar restrictions.

“Banning an organisation is neither a solution nor does it suit a democratic society. The culture of banning the organisations is in itself a clear violation of the fundamental rights protected by the Constitution and goes against the democratic spirit and basic civil liberties,” JIH President Syed Sadatullah Husaini said in a statement.

Husaini claimed they have consistently disagreed with the PFI on several fronts, but that is not a justification for outlawing a group or harassing its members. He asserted that it is the responsibility of the police and government to uphold law and order in the nation and that anyone found guilty of breaking the law or committing a crime can be tried and punished in accordance with the law’s provisions. The courts will also make decisions about the allegations made against them, and those accused will have the opportunity to prove their innocence.

President of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella body of various Muslim organisations in India, Navaid Hamid had earlier condemned countrywide raids on offices of PFI and arrests of its leaders on ‘fictitious’ charges.

“Country-wide raids on PFI offices & arrest of its leaders on fictitious charges & assumptions are highly deplorable; shows govt’s desperation to divert country’s attention from real issues. All should condemn it in one voice. Hope the organisation will get justice from the courts,”

Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO), the student body of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, also condemned the ban.

“The ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI) is a worrying development for all citizens and constitutes a threat to democracy and freedom. We may have many differences with PFI, but the response to a disagreement cannot be prohibition,” said Mohammad Salman, national president of the SIO.

(Ubair is a fellow at the SEEDS-TCN mentorship program.)