The massive searches and raids that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has carried out on properties linked to the Popular Front of India (PFI) on Thursday are related to five Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA) cases registered against the body, including one on April 13 this year. What are these cases about, and what was Thursday’s operation? We explain.
The case registered in April is a broad investigation following “credible information’” gathered by the central government that office bearers and members of the PFI were collecting funds from India and abroad to “committing terrorist acts”.
On Thursday (September 22), the NIA searched and raided 93 locations across the country and arrested at least 45 people linked to the PFI. The NIA had received a court warrant dated September 20, 2022 to carry out the raids, which was executed on Thursday morning. The states where the raids were held are Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, West Bengal, Bihar and Manipur.
Of the arrested, 19 are from Kerala, 11 from Tamil Nadu, seven from Karnataka, four from Andhra Pradesh, two from Rajasthan, and one each from UP and Telangana. While seeking the remand of some of these people, the NIA claimed the PFI has been involved in “recruiting Muslim youth to proscribed organizations like ISIS”. The PFI has also been accused of providing training to its members to carry out acts of terror.
Sources said during the raids, the NIA was accompanied by officials of the Enforcement Directorate (ED). In June this year, the ED after filing prosecution complaints against the PFI and attaching Rs 68.62 lakh under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2022, had claimed that the “PFI was covertly mobilizing funds through well-organized networks in Gulf countries”.
The ED said that funds were being sent to India through illegal channels and “foreign remittances into the bank accounts of sympathisers/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 alleged.
What is the Popular Front of India?
The PFI was created in 2007 through the merger of three Muslim organizations in southern India — the National Democratic Front in Kerala, the Karnataka Forum for Dignity, and the Manitha Neethi Pasarai in Tamil Nadu.
A decision to bring the three outfits together was taken in November 2006 at a meeting in Kozhikode in Kerala. The formation of the PFI was formally announced at a rally in Bengaluru during what was called the “Empower India Conference” on February 16, 2007.
The PFI, which emerged in the aftermath of the ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), has projected itself as an organization that fights for the rights of minorities, Dalits, and marginalized communities.
The PFI has never contested elections and has been involved in carrying out social and Islamic religious work among Muslims, on the lines of the work done by right-wing groups such as the VHP and Hindu Jagaran Vedike among Hindus. Like these Hindu groups, the PFI doesn’t maintain records of its members, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to pin crimes on the organization after arrests.
In 2009, a political outfit named Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) evolved out of the PFI, with the aim of taking up the political issues of Muslims, Dalits, and other marginalized communities.
What are some of the cases of violence the PFI has been linked with?
*A 2011 case in Kerala of the chopping of a college professor’s hand.
*The murder of RSS worker R Rudresh in Bengaluru in 2016, in which the NIA named Asim Shariff, president of the PFI’s Bengaluru unit, as an accused.
* Also in 2016, Mysuru Police arrested Abid Pasha, a youth with PFI links, for the murder of Bajrang Dal worker K Raju. Pasha has been accused of being involved in six communally motivated murders in the region.
* In 2017, the police in Dakshina Kannada arrested two PFI activists in connection with the stabbing of RSS worker Sharath Madivala, 28, in Bantwal town of the district. The murder was allegedly in retaliation for the killing of SDPI worker Ashraf Kalayi.
* Persons linked to the SDPI are accused in a 2019 attempt to murder Tanveer Sait, the multiple-term Congress MLA from Narasimharaja.
* The 2019 murder of a social activist Ramalingam in the Thanjavur region of Tamil Nadu.
“A large number of criminal cases have been registered by different states over the last few years against the PFI and its leaders and members for their involvement in many violent acts. Criminal acts carried out by PFI, such as chopping off the hand of a college professor, cold blooded killings of persons associated with organizations espousing other faiths, collection of explosives to target prominent people and places, support to Islamic State and destruction of public property have had a demonstrative effect of striking terror in the minds of the citizens,” the NIA said after Thursday’s raids.
SDPI’s reaction to the nationwide raids
The SDPI called the raids an attempt by the BJP government to intimidate its opponents by using the NIA and the ED.
“The nationwide raids on the residences of leaders are an affirmative sign of the efforts to stifle dissenting voices. In the past few years, in which the mainstream political parties have become mute about the fascist atrocities in the country, it has been the Popular Front of India and the Social Democratic Party of India that have taken up the role of the opposition,” SDPI national president MK Faizy said in a statement on Thursday.
“The regime has failed to provide any offense of anti-national activities or financial misappropriation against the organizations despite their incessant allegations and raids,” Faizy added.