After a week of raids and arrests, the government of India has invoked Section 3 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act’s Section 3, to ban the contentious Popular Front of India (PFI). This makes the organisation a “terrorist organisation”. What does it mean for the members and organisations associated with PFI, an organisation that despite having a contentious past has been known to be involved in welfare, social and educational activities involving Muslim populations across India. Incidentally, PFI, which purports itself to be a "neo-social movement committed to empower people to ensure justice, freedom and security”, had led to protests in 2012 against the UAPA.
Weeklong crackdown: Why govt banned PFI
More than 150 people allegedly linked with PFI were detained or arrested in raids across seven states on Tuesday, five days after a similar pan-India crackdown against the 16-year-old group had led to the arrest of over a hundred of its activities and seizure of several dozen properties.
In a late Tuesday night notification, the Union Home Ministry said some PFI founding members are leaders of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the PFI has linkages with Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Both JMB and SIMI are proscribed organisations.
It said there had been many instances of international linkages of PFI with global terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The notification also claimed that the PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts have been working covertly to increase the radicalisation of one community by promoting a sense of insecurity in the country, which is substantiated by the fact that some PFI cadres have joined international terrorist organisations.
What does the ban on PFI mean for its members, related organisations
With the inclusion of PFI in the list of “terrorist” organisations, anyone found to be associated with the group can be booked under terror charges from any part of the country. The ban will also cripple all economic and funding avenues of the organisations and its subsidiaries.
The ban also means that members and remaining office bearers of the organisation will be prohibited from gathering for protest or seminal, conferences, discussion or donation campaigns, Hindustan Times reported. It also cannot engage in publication of written literature or engage in mass dissemination of information.
What are PFI’s associate organisations?
In its recent statements regarding PFI, the Home Ministry claimed investigations have established alleged linkages between PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts.
As per the ministry, one of these associates, Rehab India Foundation, collects funds through PFI members. Some PFI members are also members of Campus Front of India, Empower India Foundation, and Rehab Foundation, Kerala. The activities of Junior Front, All India Imams Council, National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation and National Women's Front are monitored/coordinated by the PFI leaders, the notification claimed.
PFI created these associates or affiliates or fronts to enhance its reach among different sections of the society such as the youth, students, women, imams, lawyers or weaker sections of the society to expand its membership, influence and fund-raising capacity, the government notification said.
The Centre, through another notification, empowered the state governments to take action against these groups affiliated with the PFI and the possible action against them could be seizure of places and arrest of their members.
The government has alleged that the PFI and its associates or affiliates operate openly as socio-economic educational and political organisations. But they have been pursuing a secret agenda to radicalise a particular section of the society, working towards undermining the concept of democracy and showing sheer disrespect towards the constitutional authority and constitutional setup of the country.
Incidentally, the PFI has been a critic of several policies of the Narendra Modi government including the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and the National Registrar of Citizens.
(With inputs from PTI)