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New Delhi: On Thursday, September 22, of coordinated and nation-wide raids were conducted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Enforcement Directorate to crack down on suspected terror funding rings – primarily targeting the Popular Front of India.
Described by the central agencies as the “largest ever” such crackdown, the raids spanned numerous locations across 11 states and involved their respective police forces too.
Besides terror funding, the agencies claim that the suspects were also allegedly involved in organising training camps for terrorists as well as radicalising individuals to join their organisation.
The raids have, so far, resulted in the arrests of 106 leaders of the PFI. Four of these leaders have reportedly been charged under the stringent anti-terror legislation, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
In the recent past, the heat on the PFI has intensified, with not just government agencies and law enforcement targeting it but also a Sufi body calling for its banning.
Formed in Kerala in 2006, the PFI claims to be an organisation which works for the empowerment of marginalised communities in India. It is not yet banned in India.
Section 35 of the UAPA lists out 39 banned terrorist organisations, accessible on the Union Home Ministry website. Besides global terrorist organisations like the Islamic State (IS) and its various offshoots, the list includes islamis-extremist organisations in India, such as Lashkar-E-Taiba and Jaish-E-Mohammed, Sikh separatist organisations, such as the Khalistan Commando Force, and even the revolutionary outfit in Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Despite allegations of its involvement in a number of protests, charges of conspiracy and money laundering, and the arrests of its leaders, the PFI does not feature on this list.
In July this year, The Wire had reported that leaders of the All India Sufi Sajjadanashin Council (AISSC), at an interfaith conference in Delhi, had proposed a resolution advocating for a ban on the PFI and similar organisations for indulging in “anti-national activities”.
During the movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in late 2019-early 2020, the Uttar Pradesh police had alleged that the PFI had orchestrated the protests in the state and had, at the time, arrested the organisation’s state head as well as some 25 members.
Thereafter, the ED had levelled charges of money laundering against the PFI in the aftermath of the Northeast Delhi riots in 2020, claiming that the protests were funded by the organisation, and two members were also arrested by the Delhi police.
Further, in the aftermath of the gangrape and murder of a woman in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras in 2020, the state police had arrested journalist Siddique Kappan for his alleged “deep links” to the PFI. Claims of Kappan’s links to the organisation have been contested by his friends and family.
Before he was given bail in the UAPA case against him, the Uttar Pradesh government told the Supreme Court in an affidavit, that he had a “close nexus with the top leadership of PFI/CFI (which is basically formed of ex-SIMI members), who in turn have been found to have connections with Al Qaeda linked organisations like IHH in Turkey”.
Last year, the ED had claimed that the PFI wanted to “incite communal riots and spread terror” in the aftermath of the Hathras incident. Its charge-sheet had named Kappan, along with others.
The Karnataka government recently told the Supreme Court that the PFI was to blame for the outrage against the government’s hijab ban in educational institutions. It claimed this was part of a “larger conspiracy”.
Insisting that the agitation in support of wearing hijab in educational institutions was not a “spontaneous act” by a few individuals, it said the state government would have been “guilty of dereliction of constitutional duty” if it had not acted the way it did.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Karnataka, told the court the PFI started a campaign on social media which was designed to create an agitation based on “religious feelings of the people”.
Mehta told a bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia the PFI started the social media campaign over the Islamic headscarf earlier this year and there were continuous social media messages asking students to “start wearing hijab”.
Leader’s arrest in Kerala
The Palakkad district secretary of PFI, Aboobaker Siddik, was arrested recently for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to kill RSS leader S. K. Srinivasan on April 16 this year.
He was also allegedly part of a group of PFI activists who had prepared the list of leaders of various political organisations including the BJP, CPI(M) and Youth League, the youth wing of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), to be targeted in their retaliatory attacks, a police officer claimed to the news agency PTI.
The Bihar Police in July this year said it had arrested three members of the PFI and the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) in Patna and seized a seven-page document on an alleged plan to “establish rule of Islam in India by 2047” from them.
According to a report on The Hindu, the document, marked as “internal document, not for circulation”, said, “2047 CE is not a watershed in history, but signifies the end of the century of Independent India and the beginning of a new one pregnant with changes, positive and negative, cataclysmic or otherwise. We dream of a 2047 where the political power has returned to the Muslim community from whom it was unjustly taken away by the British Raj”.
Assistant Superintendent of Police, Phulwari Sharief, Manish Kumar told The Hindu that the suspects were arrested for “anti-India activities”.
(With PTI inputs)