New Delhi: A ban on Popular Front of India (PFI) seems imminent after law-enforcement agencies Thursday conducted searches against it at 93 locations across 15 states over its alleged involvement in terror activities after in what officials described as the “largest-ever investigation process till date”.
106 PFI leaders have been arrested in the nationwide raids carried out by the National Investigation Agency, ED and the local police. The highest number of arrests was made from Kerala.
The NIA, according to the officials, has secured 45 convictions as part of the earlier investigations against the PFI and has chargesheeted 355 people in these cases.
Here’s the state-wise breakdown of the arrests-
- Kerala: 22
- Maharashtra: 20
- Karnataka: 20
- Tamil Nadu: 10
- Assam: 9
- Uttar Pradesh: 8
- Andhra Pradesh: 5
- Madhya Pradesh: 4
Arrests were also made from Delhi and Rajasthan.
Why the raids happened now?
“These searches were conducted at the houses and offices of the top PFI leaders and members in connection with five cases registered by the NIA following continued inputs and evidence that the PFI leaders and cadres were involved in funding of terrorism and terrorist activities, organising training camps for providing armed training and radicalising people to join banned organisations,” the probe agency in press release said.
The PFI has been under the radar of security agencies for several years. However, the organisation gained more notoriety after the 2019 anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests.
PFI under radar over alleged forced conversion, radicalisation
Following the demonstrations and subsequent violence in December 2019, the Uttar Pradesh government recommended the central government declare the PFI a banned organisation for its alleged involvement in violence.
Last year, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had also submitted before the Supreme Court the central government is in the process of banning the PFI, which has already been declared outlaw in several states, including Jharkhand.
Mehta had also said many PFI officer-bearers were found to be associated with the SIMI , which is already a banned organisation.
In January 2018, the then union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju had said the ministry was considering to ban the PFI under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The PFI was also accused of being involved in violence that had erupted during last Ram Navami in Goa, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
The PFI has also been under the radar of security agencies over alleged forced conversions, radicalisation of Muslim youth, money laundering and links with banned groups, officials said.
‘Violence carried out by PFI’
Officials said criminal and violent acts allegedly carried out by the PFI over a period of time — such as the chopping off the hand of a college professor in Kerala, cold-blooded killings of people linked with organisations 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.
According to law-enforcement agencies, the PFI has over 50,000 members and a large number of sympathisers in Kerala.
“The PFI cadres are consciously encouraged to intervene and react even in minor cases against members of the Muslim community. The PFI cadres are also encouraged to act as guardian of Islamic values, thus effectively converting them into moral police. The cadres are given training in martial arts and combat using sticks and knives or swords at some locations in their strongholds,” PTI quoted a document prepared by a security agency as saying.
Why was PFI set up and who funds it?
The PFI was set up in 2006 and has now branches in over two dozen states and union territories including Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Assam and Manipur.
Security agencies say the PFI is an offspring of the National Development Front which was formed after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and subsequent riots in 1993.
The PFI is allegedly receives funds from its sympathisers, mostly Indians, based in the Gulf countries.
With inputs from agencies