Popular Front of India (PFI) was under the watch of the central security agencies since long as its cadres were deeply involved in indoctrinating young Muslims and receiving funds from foreign-based entities for waging war within India.
It was also found involved in terror funding and helping illegal Rohingyas and Bangladeshi migrants to sneak into India. Its footprints were found in the pan-India protests against the National Register Census and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the Hijab row in Karnataka. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) were scanning the activities of PFI and its cadres.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah gave the go-ahead for launching a nationwide crackdown against PFI and its affiliates after NIA and ED submitted a preliminary report about its activities. The arrest of over 106 people linked with the PFI and its nefarious activities on Thursday is just the tip of the iceberg, say top sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Preparations for the sustained action against PFI had begun three months ago after the central agencies started monitoring the activities of PFI across the country and tight surveillance was mounted to track its fundings, they added.
PFI’s hand was seen in igniting passions on religious lines. According to top agency sources, who have been keeping a tab on PFI’s activities for a long time, termed the expansion of the group as “really intriguing”.
The source said that the PFI, which was formed in Kerala in the beginning of the last decade, has drawn many Muslim youths towards it after the government crackdown on SIMI. The new outfit with a new name of the PFI soon got support from various organisations based in India and abroad.
Even before the suspected role of the PFI emerged in the protests against CAA in 2018, Delhi riots in 2020, unrest in Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh in 2021, the Hijab row in Karnataka and Karauli violence in Rajasthan and PFI module busted in Bihar’s Patna and Phulwari Sharif districts earlier this year, the PFI’s role has been in the police files of Kerala after several cases of murder were registered against its members.
The PFI has, however, repeatedly rejected allegations about its role in communal violence or protests. It has maintained that it works for the rights of minorities and has its units in more than 20 states across the country.
In December 2019, Uttar Pradesh Police arrested over 133 workers of the PFI for their alleged involvement in violence related to anti-CAA protests. The police also accused the PFI of fuelling unrest in the case of rape and murder of a Dalit girl in Hathras in 2020. The anti-terrorism squad (ATS) of UP Police also arrested four people, including online journalist Siddique Kappan from Mathura while they were proceeding to Hathras to allegedly incite trouble.
The PFI was formed after many small Islamist outfits mushroomed in Kerala following the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, exploiting “hurt sentiments” of the Muslim community. Following the ban on SIMI in 2001, the National Development Front (NDF) was formed. In 2006, after NDF merged with Manitha Neethi Passarai of Tamil Nadu and Forum for Dignity, a Karnataka-based outfit, to form the PFI. Till date, most of its frontline leaders are from Kerala, mostly former members of the SIMI.
Since the inception of PFI, it had been mired in many clashes and political murders in Kerala. It was allegedly involved in at least 30 political murders in the state, police records show. In 2015, 13 of its workers were awarded life-term for chopping the palm of a college professor TJ Joseph, who prepared a question paper alleged to be blasphemous. Two years ago, six PFI activists were held in connection with the murder of an ABVP leader in Kannur and nine were arrested for allegedly killing SFI leader Abhimanyu in 2018. In the last one year, three RSS workers were killed in Kerala allegedly by Social Democratic Party of India, its political wing.
Ahmed Shareef, the founder member of PFI said in its mouthpiece Gulf Thejas, “After making India an Islamic state and PFI will go to other countries.”