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What is PFI or Popular Front of India?

13 min read

Esha Dinesh

Popular Front of India, also known as PFI is an extremist and militant Islamic fundamentalist organisation in India, which goes by the slogan Naya Caravan Naya Hindustan. It is a re-incarnation of National Development Fund which was founded in 1994, Kerala, and dissolved in 2006. PFI re-emerged with a new vision that focuses on socio-economic issues ailing minorities, especially Muslim community based in Kerala.

Popular Front of India is registered at Delhi under Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860, stating its purpose to establish classless society which revolves around Freedom, Justice, and Security. It is presently working in 23 states across India, but is mostly active in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Preamble of PFI – The preamble of Popular Front of India mentions socio-economic, cultural, and political empowerment of deprived. It lays down the goals which is primarily working for welfare of Dalits, tribal people, religious, linguistic, cultural minorities, and backward classes and women. PFI has its own monthly magazine Thejas, and the membership fee to join PFI is Rs10 per month.

Beliefs & Preaching – Members of Popular Front of India believe that if their rights are breached, then they will be left with no choice but to react. These members are deeply influenced by writings of Sayed Abu Ala Maududi, Allam Iqbal, & Osama Bin Laden. They are preached to attack the right wing organisations, and killing of right wing activists who oppose Islam would provide these members with ‘religious rewards in afterlife’.

However, these attacks has always been either communal or political, but PFI has not taken any large scale terror attacks according to the reports. They have been under constant surveillance for several years now.

PFI’s objectives – Along with goals and visions, PFI has mentioned two primary objectives of their organisation :

  • To mobilise people against violation of Human Rights and, protect civil and political rights of people of India
  • To protect the cultural, social and religious identity of tribal people, Dalit, and minorities.

Popular Front of India also run certain projects and campaigns like ‘School Chalo’ to encourage education for all up to secondary level, ‘Sarva Shiksha Gram’ & ‘Adopt a student’. These projects and campaigns provide them with legitimacy to function openly and cover over their missionary work.

History

The division of All India Muslim League took place in 1947, following which Indian Union Muslim League came into existence in 1948. It was a political party in Kerala and was recognised by Election commission of India. Later on, it became a leading party as part of United Democratic Front led by Indian Congress in Kerala. In 1992, Islamic Sevak Sangh (ISS) was established in Kerala. It came into limelight during the demolition of Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.

 

Popular Front of India flag

Government of India banned it later stating the reason that they discovered that ISS members were connected with ISS of Pakistan. In 1994, National Development Fund came into existence in Kerala with an intent to focus on socio-economic issues of minorities. The Modus Operandi of NDF was Da’wah – which means to spread and convey the message of Islam to people, and embrace it. NDF came into limelight when some students among Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) started getting notified for their extremist Jihadi activities and called for liberation and Islamic conversion of India.

Later, it was discovered that Professor P. Koya, a member of Student Islamic Movement OF India, began to attend prayers in mosque and sponsored post prayer gatherings, and conducted interactions with Jamaat-e-Islami in Kerala. They together formed another group called National Democratic Front. This group dissolved in 2006, which led to emergence of Popular Front of India, which is considered a reincarnation of National Democratic Front.

Organisations under PFI umbrella

Apart from various projects and campaigns run by PFI, there are several organisations under PFI :

  • National Women’s Front
  • Social Democratic Party of India
  • Karnataka Forum for Democratic
  • Manitha Neethi Pasarai
  • Citizen’s Forum in Goa
  • Association of Justice in Andhra Pradesh & more.

SDPI replaced NDF in 2009, a political party, and contested assembly elections in Tamil Nadu (2016), Karnataka (2013&2018), Kerala (2016), but won no seats. NIA raided it repeatedly and accused it of spear heading a weapons training camp at Narath in 2013. Around 21 PFI members were arrested for the same.

PFI is said to have 3 lakh supporters across India, and 25,000 members in Kerala itself. It has also been accused of carrying out at least 30 high profile murders, including that off RSS leader Rudresh in Bengaluru in October 2018.

Role in anti-CAA protests

PFI has been protesting against CAA, NRC, & NPR across India. Its epicentre is reportedly Shaheen bagh.

In 2019, PFI supported Maulana Saad during anti-CAA protest, which managed to gain some support from international media and certain gulf countries.

Delhi police special cell prepared a charge sheet regarding North-East Delhi riots. The authorities accused PFI for providing logistical and financial support to rioters. The charge sheet also mentioned JNU scholar Umar Khalid, and it was alleged that he was in constant touch with members of PFI. Later, PFI Delhi President Parvez Ahmed and Secretary Mohammad Illiyas were arrested for allegedly conspiring to incite riots and violence in North-East Delhi.

In response to this, PFI chairman OMA Salam called this a ‘witch hunt’ and said that “witch hunt of student activists who took part in anti-CAA protests by using draconian laws is nothing but communal and political vendetta”.

There was a violent protest against CAA in Mangalore in December 2019 which resulted in several casualties and 2 deaths. Police claimed that it collected crucial evidence that shows provocative messages shared by groups affiliated to outfits like PFI and political wing. Abubakar Siddiqui & Moideen Hamiz were arrested along with many others, and a notice was issued to 30 others.

2 men were charged with section 124A which states sedition. At first Supreme Court granted a stay order on bail which was granted to 21 members of PFI accused of Mangalore protest on appeal filed by Karnataka Government against the High Court order.

However, later Supreme Court granted bail on condition. A bench comprising of Chief Justice SA Bobde, AS Bopanna, and V Ramasubramanian said that the applicants be released on bail on condition that they will not participate in any violent activities or meetings.

In regard to observations of High Court, Supreme Court said that it is not possible to prima facie determine presence of accused persons at spot or without treating the said observation as final finding of fact.

They continued to state that the observations of High court on question of fact and law are obviously made prima facie and shall not affect the trial. The High Court, while granting bail had said that records produced indicate that identity of accused involved in incident appeared to have been fixed on basis of affiliation to PFI and due to being members of Muslim community.

In March 2020, 3 members of PFI – Shakilur Rehman, Shabi Khan, & Arshad, were arrested for their involvement in violent anti-CAA protests in Lucknow & Parivartan chowk in December 2019. In Uttar Pradesh, 108 PFI members were arrested including PFI state President Waseem Ahmad, Nadeem, and divisional President Ashfaq.

Intelligence bureau found that consistent efforts were put in by PFI to send messages to countries in West Asia on updates of NRC.

Forced conversions

There have been various allegations of forced conversion to Islam against PFI. It has also been linked with cases of Love Jihad. In 2017, National Investigation Agency had investigated 94 Love Jihad cases in Kerala.

A well-known national television channel carried out a sting operation on Zainab AS, who is the head of PFI’s Women Wing called National Women Front. It was discovered that around 5000 people had converted to Islam in duration of 10 years, and she also admitted that it included both Hindu and Christians. PFI in return said that this alleged sting operation was a vilification campaign against them. Case, however is still under investigation

A sensational case of conversion involving the hand of PFI came to limelight, popularly known as Hadiya conversion case[1]. The investigation was carried out by NIA, and it was reported that a 24 year old girl, Akhila embraced Islam and changed her name to Hadiya, without the knowledge of her family.

Since January 2016, her parents are fighting a legal battle to get their daughter back. High court admitted habeas corpus filed by her family, and nullified her marriage to Shafin Jahan. However, the case reached Supreme Court, and the bench asked Hadiya aka Akhila to appear before the court and give her version of the story.

Funding and Money laundering

Financing of PFI is done from through various sources, but mostly through membership schemes and donations from individuals in name of Zakat- one of 5 main pillars of Islam. It was further noticed that due to their connections with people residing in Gulf countries, they were easily able to obtain large donations.

These donations were always in the name of social welfare, or girl child education, or mosque construction, or even Madrasa establishment.

PFI members function vigorously in UAE through front organisations, like Rehab Foundation, Indian Social Forum, Indian Fraternity Forum in Bahrain & Kuwait. PFI has an office at Muraba, behind lulu Hypermarket in Al Ain, Dubai, which diligently focuses on propagating Islamic Fundamentalism and raising funds to be used for pan-Islamic cause. PFI members travel to such nations to raise funds and expand their activities.

Muslim Relief Network (MRN) which is an NGO established by PFI, is another entity through which it organises funds in return for raising voices for the Palestine cause & put pressure on Indian Government.

MRN receives donations from Islamic Development Bank, Jeddah under mandate of organisations of Islamic countries. PFI also funds Jeddah based World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), which is linked with Al Qaeda. PFI also assists Muslim World League’s local representatives to organise religious propagation, relief activities and education.

It was discovered by Enforcement Directorate that PFI was receiving fund from various sources. It had 73 bank accounts with total approximately 120 crores. 10 of these accounts were directly linked to PFI, whereas 5-7% of it was related to accounts of Rehab India Foundation (RIF). It was concluded that the transfer was done in a calculated manner to not fall under the radar of extreme surveillance.

Security agencies have reported that a huge amount of money was transferred into bank accounts of Mohammad Tausif Ahmed, a PFI activist from Qatar. It was believed that the illegal money transaction was sent to Bihar to support anti-national activities.

ED booked PFI and suspended Aam Aadmi Party’s councillor Tahir Hussain on charges of money laundering and allegedly funding communal riots. Hussain confessed that he received funds from PFI to arrange logistics. ED also registered money laundering case against Tablighi Jammat, claiming that the funds were pumped in by PFI for holding religious congregations in order to spread Covid-19 infection.

In May 2019, Indian Intelligence officers recently raided PFI offices and NIA raided 8 offices of PFI at various locations.

ED continued to reveal that 15 bank transactions were made by PFI that constitutes to money laundering. Some bank accounts of PFI received funds through multiple front organisations in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, & Qatar. PFI has been under strict scanner of ED ever since.

They revealed that at least 1.05 crore has been deposited in several banks of PFI between 2019 December and 6th January 2020, the duration in which anti-CAA protests began in the country.

Involvement in terror attacks and other activities

PFI has been suspected of being involved in various political killings and religious conversions.

NIA reported that PFI has been consistently indulging in action detrimental to overall national security. The authorities blame PFI for imposing religious orthodoxy on Muslim community, and for using Sathya Sarani of Malappuram to carry out forceful conversions.

After the IRF was banned, within days PFI organised massive rallies in different parts of the country to support Zakir Naik. Intelligence sources say that they have electronic evidence of increased interactions between members of both the groups.

A PFI member was exposed as an ISIS sympathiser on Facebook, and he was in touch with Harkal Ul Jihad al-Islami, Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba & Al Qaeda. Upon further investigation, the investigation agency submitted that the PFI members were involved in sending youths of Kerala to Afghanistan, Syria, and Turkey to join Daesh and ISIS.

Role of PFI has been established in Easter bombing case, where 2 PFI members – Riyaz Aboobacker and Azaruddin provided support to mastermind of the blast Zaharan Hashmi, who is supposedly linked with ISIS module in India. Later, PFI member Azharuddin started a Facebook page ‘KhilafahGFX’ which is propagates IS ideology.

After digging deep in the matter, it was revealed that Zaharan Hashmi’s organisation – National Thowheed Jamaat had links with Jamaat ul Mujahideed, which is a part of a parent organisation Jamaat ul Mujahideen in Bangladesh.

The Pune-German Bakery case in 2010 allegedly provided support to Indian unit of LeT. Himayat Baig, who is allegedly the mastermind of the chaos caused received training from LeT, which was operative in Sri Lanka. He later on became a member of PFI. In addition to this, PFI is found to be linked with terrorists, and supposedly is involved in 26/11 Mumbai attack.

NIA previously busted IS module in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and it was alleged that there was concrete planning taking place to carry out attacks in South India. Mujeeb, a senior member was found to be a part of PFI organisation.

In 2010, 37 PFI activists were arrested for chopping off right hand of a professor TJ Joseph for an alleged “inflammatory” question he set for internal examinations. Certain charges were imposed on them including attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy, assault, etc.

NIA probed PFI involvement in 23 cases of “love jihad” in Kerala in and inter-faith marriages in 2 years, as reported in 2017.

The Kerala government submitted to Kerala High Court in 2012, that PFI has been actively involved in 27 murder cases, out of which most were of cadres of CPI-M & RSS. In 2014 there were approximately 86 attempts of murder cases involving PFI. NIA also cited in its investigation that terror camps were set up in Kannur’s Narath, and 22 PFI activists allegedly imparted explosives and weapons training. NIA court had held 21 guilty, and the investigation is still underway.

As per reports, between 2010 & 2013, Kerala police seized weapons and files which contained Taliban and Al Qaeda propaganda from PFI members.

Kerala police reported that 10 men of PFI organisation had gone to Syria to fight for Islamic state. During the said interrogation of Shah Jahan, who is supposedly an IS sympathiser from Kanjirangode of Kannur, it was revealed that he was deported from Turkey following failed attempt to cross border.

PFI members in Karnataka have been involved in political murders of 4 RSS workers in State. Among them, 2 are reported in coastal city of Mangalore, 1 is from Bangalore, and 1 from Mysore. 5 people, including the Bangalore district President of PFI Azim Sheriff were arrested for murder of Rudresh in October 2016. However, so far no strong evidence has been discovered.

Police force of Karnataka and Kerala found strong evidence of use of lethal weapons in PFI centres. The outfit also has political arm called Social Democratic Party of India which was established in 2009, and registered with Election Commission of India in 2010.

In 2012, PFI organised a march to Parliament to demand 10% reservation for Muslims. The reasons that they gave are :

  • It is a constitutional right of an individual to seek equal opportunity for self-growth
  • The need to fight against backwardness of Muslim community.

In the same year, the organisation launched a promotional campaign ‘Why the Popular Front of India’, where it reiterated its missions to restore the rights of the marginalised.

Banning of Popular Front of India

Members of PFI have been arrested at various occasions, for instigating violence in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, fanning flames in Karnataka against north-eastern people, all of which resulted in mass exodus.

In February 2019, Jharkhand banned PFI to curb its anti-national activities, and for keeping links with terror groups and organisations. It was banned under Criminal Law Amendment Act 1908.

However, banning PFI has been difficult for many states, especially because of PFI’s credibility as organisation for social work. Another reason is lack of evidence to prove its alleged terror links.

An appeal was made to the Central Government to ban PFI for its unlawful acts of terror. It’s been several years that PFI has been under the scanner of several intelligence agencies for alleged anti-India ideology.

Recently, centre carried out a mulling crackdown of the ‘radical’ outfit PFI, including its ban under UAPA. Ministry of Home Affairs reported that they have enough material on PFI terror links, and the time has come to act and carry out a crackdown on it. It was concluded that PFI was sufficiently linked with cases of Jihadi terror and was actively promoting Islamic fundamentalism.

Recent news

On 10th March 2020, a couple was arrested from Trilokpuri, Delhi regarding a suspicion of their involvement in assisting PFI to organise attack similar to that of Christ Church, Sri Lanka.

An attack took place at Gurudwara Har Rai Sahib situated in Kabul, Afghanistan on 25th March 2020. As reported, 25 people were killed and 80 were injured. One of the suicide bombers, a 29 year old Mohammad Mushin from Kerala was recognised, and was allegedly an active member of PFI.

After the attack on Gurudwara, ISKP took responsibility and also showed image of the Kerala boy in their magazine Al Naba, with a caption ‘He avenged the atrocities on Muslims in India’. Another statement was given that this attack was carried out as act of revenge for Kashmiri Muslims. However, it has not been fully established that Indian youth was involved in the attack. The investigation is still going on.

The Tablighi Jamaat held a religious congregation in Delhi in March 2020, which led to a massive outbreak of covid-19 infection. Delhi police crime branch claim that there was a link between PFI and Tablighi Jamaat, and it was all staged with the intention to spread the deadly virus.

On 10th May 2020, PFI organised an online conference called ‘National lockdown fascism – unmask the hidden agenda’. It has been reported that approximately 10,000 people attended this conference.

It was supposedly a mass protest against Government of India, calling it fascist. Among the participants were PFI political party, ex-IAS officer Sasikanth Senthil, Raj Ratan Ambedkar- National President of Buddhist society of India, Islamic scholar Khalilur Rehman Sajjad Nomani.

In the sensational Hathras gang rape case currently being investigated in Uttar Pradesh, PFI has been accused of “conspiring” to instigate communal violence in UP after the incident. A journalist of a Kerala based website and 3 others were arrested in Mathura over alleged links with PFI. They were put in preventive detention for 14 days under section 151 of Criminal Procedure Code.

There have been some reports that stated that PFI has plans to organise next protest rally in Murshidabad district of West Bengal on January 5th. It was also said that TMC MP Abu Taher Khan will also participate, but he denies such involvement.

  1. Shafin Jahan v Asokan K.M. & Ors 2018 SC 343

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