Founded in Kerala in 2006, the Popular Front of India (PFI) has seen exponential growth and has spread its wings to 22 states across India, even spawning a political arm that contests elections. Yet the organization has been shrouded in controversy for most of this decade and a half, with allegations of “radicalisation” and involvement in violence, with the Kerala government telling the Supreme Court in an affidavit in 2012 that the PFI was “nothing but a resurrection” of India’s banned student Islamic movement , SIMI.
On Friday, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and state police forces conducted coordinated raids in 15 states and one Union Territory of India in a massive crackdown on the organization and arrested more than 108 PFI members from across the country. . Experts say there are two clear indicators that led to the creation of PFI.
First, the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, which led to a wave of communal riots in India, and second, the final ban on SIMI in early 2001. Five years later, the PFI was formed and merged with the National Development Front. from Kerala, Karnataka Forum for Dignity and Manitha Neethi Pasari from Tamil Nadu as well as several former members of SIMI. One of the key architects of this merger was Professor P Koya, 68, a retired English teacher from Kozhikode and now one of its key ideologues. Koya was one of the 22 men arrested from Kerala on Thursday.
In a 2017 interview, Koya said that “growing inequalities and community exploitation in the country have forced people like him to float clothes to regain their pride”. In 2009, the PFI also emerged as its political wing, the Social Democratic Party of India, which contested elections, primarily in Karnataka.
In 2014, two years after the Kerala government told the High Court that PFI was a resurrection of SIMI, it also told the court that PFI wanted to “islamize society by promoting conversion, communalizing issues in favor of Islam, recruiting and maintaining branded committed indoctrinated Muslim youth to carry out actions including the selective elimination of persons who are in their perception enemies of Islam.
Soon after its inception, PFI began to expand, first to other southern states. Today, the organization has offices in 22 states, including its headquarters in Delhi, and its reach extends as far as Manipur in the northeast, the places expected to be attacked on Thursday. The PFI has a uniform for its cadres, conducts drills in public places and often organizes ‘unity’ marches at district headquarters in Kerala as a show of strength. In 2013, the Kerala government banned the procession, claiming it would create a law and order problem.
Over the years, the PFI has found itself shrouded in allegations of violence and murder, mostly with communal undertones. Kerala government records have linked the organization to as many as 30 murders since its inception. In one of the most high-profile cases of violence to bring national attention to the PFI, 13 PFI activists were sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly chopping off the hands of Professor TJ Joseph, a Malayalam teacher at New Man’s College in Ernakulam’s Muvattupuzha in July 2010, for preparing a questionnaire they considered blasphemy.
Most recently, Alok Kumar, Additional Director General of Police, Karntaka Police, said that the alleged killers of BJP leader Praveen Nettara in Bellary on July 26 this year had links to both PFI and SDPI. Ten people have been arrested in the case so far. In 2016, five people, including Bengaluru PFI district president Azim Sherif, were arrested for the murder of RSS man Rudresh in Bengaluru’s Shivajinagar. The Karnataka Police also accused the PFI of being involved in a violent clash in the DJ Halli area of Bengaluru on 11 August 2020 that left four dead. The organization has also been accused of fueling the controversy that raged in Karnataka in February 2022 when Muslim girls in educational institutes in the state insisted on wearing the hijab.
In the Supreme Court, the Uttar Pradesh police also alleged that jailed journalist Siddique Kappan, who was detained on his way to Hathras to visit the home of a Dalit girl who was raped and killed in September 2020, had “deep connections” with the PFI and had gone there to foment trouble . Kappan, who was charged with UAPA and sedition, was granted bail by the high court on 10 September 2022. However, PFI has consistently denied the allegations. In a statement on Thursday, she said that she would “never give up” and that “the NIA’s baseless claims and sensationalism are solely aimed at creating an atmosphere of terror.