Popular Front of India - What is The Organization All About?

Image Courtesy (DNA)

As the Delhi Police filed a chargesheet in the court with respect to the mayhem resulting from the Delhi Violence, the name of the organization Popular Front of India (PFI) has come up once again. Given this context, I decided to look at the PFI and its history, and found a disturbing picture of Islamist supremacy emerging, with uncomfortable questions on its activities within India, its troublesome origins, and promoting religious bigotry.

Troubling Origins of the PFI
As per the website of the PFI, the organization came into existence after the merger of the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) of Karnataka, National Development Front (NDF) of Kerala, and Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) of Tamil Nadu) among other after the a National Convention on Reservation in Higher Education was organized jointly with All India Milli Council at New Delhi on 29th August 2006. Once the leadership of these organizations decided to merge for better coordination among themselves, a joint meeting of the Secretariat of South India Council and representatives of KFD, NDF and MNP was held on 22nd November 2006 at Calicut where the PFI came into existence.

The Vision Statement from the PFI’s Constitution reads like a typical liberal manifesto. Sample this extract:

Since independence, the ruling establishment has empowered the big business houses and the urban and rural elite, as it ignored the basic needs of the people below. The traditionally dominant social groups have hijacked the democratic process. They work hand in glove with neo-colonial, fascist and racist forces. The dalits, the tribals, the religious, the linguistic and cultural minorities, the backward classes and the women are denied their cultural and social space, making India one of the most backward countries in the world. The development models being used by the establishment is pro-rich and promotes ecological destruction. Resistance against exploitation and deprivation now is mostly local and isolated with no coordination and pooling of resources at national level. This organisation is a move towards coordination and management of such efforts for the achievement of socio-economic, cultural and political empowerment of the deprived and the downtrodden and the nation at large. It will try to establish an egalitarian society in which freedom, justice and security are enjoyed by all.

However, this has been a very clever veneer. In 2010, Times Now had reported the seizure of documents by police in Kerala from the PFI office that showed the aspiration of PFI to convert India into an Islamic state.

This was again revealed by another front organization of the Popular Front of India, Sathya Sarani, which has been accused of promoting love jihad and Islamic fundamentalism. As a sting operation of India Today had revealed, the intentions of the PFI very amply clear when Zainaba A.S., head of PFI's woman wing accepted the fact that PFI's sister organisation Sathya Sarani has carried out massive conversions.  

A matter of concern remains that a large chunk of its membership originally came from the NDF of Kerala. As documented by V Govind Krishnan, NDF was essentially a spill-over of the members of the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) after it was banned. Gaining popularity on the pretext of promoting religion, the NDF seminars were found to be promoting a rhetoric of jihad. Krishnan quoted Nasser Faizi Koodathai, then joint secretary of the state committee of the Samastha Kerala Sunni Students Federation (SKSF) (EK Sunni Group), who had accused the PFI of leading Muslim youth down the path to religious extremism.

“Since its formation, PFI has presented a democratic façade, but the ideology remains the same as in the days of NDF. In the years following Babri, a number of extremist groups became active in north Kerala, exploiting Muslim anxiety. After ISS, Jama Iyyathul Ihsania, Sunni Tigers, SIMI, etc. were banned or became inactive, NDF was the most active group. It went by no name in the beginning. It secretly held classes in playgrounds, school buildings, and in the guise of martial arts training. It was mainly young people who attended. No outsider had any idea who the members were in any area,” according to Faizi.

Charged with Running a Terror Camp in Kannur

In 2013, the Kerala Police had conducted a raid on the property of a certain Thanal Foundation Trust in Kannur in North Kerala. Arms and ammunition were discovered, even as people ran away at the sight of the police. The NIA was called in for investigation, and eventually more than 21 people were arrested, all of whom had conspired to participate in a training camp for terrorist acts, on 23rd April, 2013 in Kannur district. Convicted by the NIA Special Court in its order dated 20th Jan, 2016. Quoting from the judgment:

On 23.4.2013 at about 12.15 hours, A1 to A21 were found engaged in arms training inside a buirding owned by Thanal Foundatlon a religious and charitable trust run by PFI at Narath. A1 to A21 attended the training inside the building in weapons and explosives. A22 and A23 were guarding the building and on seeing the police party they ran away. On getting information the then Sub lnspector of police, Mayyil Police Station, Kannur District, reached the spot, detected the offence, arrested A1 to A21 at 16.30 hours, seized the articles such as sword, lathies, country made bombs, raw materials for making country bombs, pamphlets etc and registered the case as crime No.276/2013.

The Gory Activities of the PFI

Behind the veneer of the vision statement however there are several disturbing incidents and events that the PFI and its members have been associated with for long.

Activists of the PFI had chopped off the right hand of Prof T J Joseph on July 4, 2010, when he was returning along with his family members from the Sunday mass near his home in Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district. PFI was reportedly was upset after Joseph - a Malayalam teacher at Newmans College Thodupuzha, Idukki - in the Malayalam question paper that he had prepared for an internal examination at his college, had inflammatory remarks on Prophet Mohammed.

In 2015, the National Investigative Agency (NIA) court in Kochi had found 13 guilty and acquitted 18. Of the 13 people convicted, 11 were implicated on charges of attempt to murder and conspiracy. Ten of them were also found guilty under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. 

However, the attitude of the PFI has been ambivalent to it at best. In 2017, while dissociating itself from the attackers, Anis Ahmed, the National Secretary of PFI downplayed it by calling it a local incident involving local criminal elements, and clearly underlined that ‘there was no love for that teacher’ among the PFI members.

Two other murders where the PFI has been indicted or alleged to be involved have also seen investigation from the NIA. On 02.11.2016 the Karnataka State Police in 2016 along with the NIA arrested five people - Irfan Pasha, Waseem Ahmed, Mohammad Sadiq, Mohammed Mujeeb Ulla, and Asim Sheriff - all of whom were members of the PFI and its affiliated political organization, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). As the 2017 NIA press release making the announcement on the chargesheet mentioned –

None of the accused had personal enmity with the deceased Rudresh. He was killed solely because of his leadership/membership to a particular organization. Investigation has established that the killing was a clear act of terror with the intention to strike terror among a section of the people. This was achieved by the broad daylight murder of a RSS member in uniform using a lethal weapon on 16 October 2016.

The other murder, currently under investigation, is the murder of Ramalingam of Tamil Nadu. As per the details shared publicly by the NIA on the case, Ramalingam was allegedly murdered by Rahman Sadiq, son of Mohammed Ismail, Administrator to DAWA activities in Thirubuvanam area and Muhammad Ali Jinna, son of Saji Muhammad, who is the District Secretary of PFI in Thirubuvanam district of Tamil Nadu along with other accused persons.
PFI members have been accused of moral policing in Kozhikode, Malappuram and Kasargod districts as well as in parts of Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka. They have attacked Hindu and Muslim couples seen together in public as well as subjected Hindu men fraternising with Muslim girls to physical violence, much to the ignorant bliss of mainstream media despite coverage in local press. Krishnan interviewed Naveen Soorinje of local Mangalorean channel BTV, who clearly accused of large-scale moral policing by PFI in Mangaluru. He told Krishnan that the PFI was very clever about the way it especially attacked Hindu boys seen with Muslim girls, due to which very few FIRs get registered against them. He recalled a horrifying episode of moral policing in 2011, where PFI activists beat up and kidnapped a Muslim girl and boy eating together at Swagath hotel.

“They handed over the girl to her relative but kept the boy captive at a PFI office for several hours. When I called the PFI president in Mangalore over the phone, he admitted it brazenly,” Soorinje said.

In another case that had surfaced in 2018, the media had highlighted the case of one Harison who had married a Muslim woman being targeted and threated by SDPI, the PFI’s political wing. Death threats were issued against him and his family.

Religious Bigotry at the Heart of the PFI

Anti-Hindu rhetoric and religious bigotry is a continuing theme of the PFI’s rhetoric. In a speech from the 2017 National Convention of the PFI, a female delegate amid cheers and claps could be heard talking derogatorily about Hindus. “We are not like Hindus. We are born here, and we are buried here. In contrast, Hindus are ungrateful, for their ashes flow in to the ocean,” said Siraj.

One important face of the organization is Umar Shariff, head of an organization called Discover Islamic Education Trust (DIET). In a public lecture 4 years ago, Shariff had said that beef eating was very much the norm in ancient India, and that there was no substance to Hindu claims, and said that a majority of the people eat beef in India. In the speech, he also poked fun at the ‘hypocrisy’ of Hindus on eating meat.

“Cow is your mother, so is the bull your father?” Shariff mocked Hindus during the speech.

The group has been very careful to not let its anti-Hindu rhetoric come to the fore. However, the Athira case involving brainwashing by Sathya Sarani clearly highlighted the anti-Hindu mindset. In 2017, Athira gave a statement to the media post the high tension drama, where she reconverted back to Hinduism, where she clearly stated the anti-Hindu rhetoric of the PFI front. Athira told the media after converting back to Hinduism in 2017 about the anti-Hindu rhetoric of the group and its affiliates in detail.

“They told me it was stupid to worship a stone as an idol and that Hinduism has many Gods while Islam has only one Supreme God. They instilled this doubt in me. When they said that, I felt very curious about it and when I thought about it, I felt what they said was right. I was attracted to Islam through my college-time friends. They first told me about the evils of polytheism practiced by Hinduism. (They) prompted me to listen to religious sermons by Muslim scholars and gave me books about Islam. Siraj, brother of my friend Aneesa, was the key force behind my conversion. It was Siraj who prompted me to leave my home and embrace Islam.”

With piles of circumstantial evidence against the PFI on various fronts, nothing less than a thorough investigation on the organization must be undertaken by relevant authorities. The organization has a lot of questions to answer, and the sooner it is done, the more safe people would feel in general.


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