What is PFI and why does UP want it banned?
The Uttar Pradesh Police has sought to ban the organization, the Popular Front of India (PFI), suspecting its complicity in the violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in the state, which have claimed 19 lives. The UP government also accused PFI and its political front, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), of "masterminding and instigating violence." So, what is PFI?
PFI defines itself as a "cadre-based movement," seeking to achieve "socio-economic, cultural and political empowerment of the deprived and the downtrodden and the nation." It was established in 2006 as a successor to the National Development Front (NDF), which was formed in 1993 in Kerala. PFI has since expanded as the Tamil Nadu-based Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) and Karnataka-based Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD).
PFI's political front SDPI, on the other hand, was registered with the Election Commission of India in 2010 as a political party that works towards the "the advancement and uniform development of all the citizenry including Muslims, Dalits, Backward Classes and Adivasis."
Notwithstanding the harmless-looking portrait, the PFI has been linked to political killings in Kerala. In 2010, PFI activists chopped the hand of a Kerala college professor for an alleged "inflammatory" question he set for internal examinations. In 2017, the National Investigation Agency also probed PFI's involvement in 23 cases of "love jihad" in Kerala out of 90 inter-faith marriages in the previous two years.
The NIA has advised the Home Ministry to ban PFI and SDPI. NIA cited its investigation into a terror camp in Kannur's Narath, where 22 PFI activists allegedly imparted explosives and weapons training. An NIA court held 21 guilty under various charges and further investigation is underway. Between 2010-2013, Kerala Police also seized weapons and files containing Taliban and al-Qaeda propaganda from PFI activists.
PFI is also linked to the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) as some PFI office-bearers were once a part of SIMI (e.g. PFI's National Chairperson Abdul Rehman was previously the SIMI National Secretary). Notably, SIMI was banned as a "terrorist organization" in 2001. In 2018, Jharkhand too banned PFI stating it was "internally influenced" by the Islamic State.
Recently, PFI made headlines as it was blamed for violent protests in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Karnataka's Mangaluru. Even though PFI denies involvement in the violence, the UP Police claimed it has enough evidence to prove that the outfit fueled violence during anti-CAA protests. The UP Police has arrested 25 PFI members in connection with the violence across several districts.
Despite calls to ban the outfit, PFI has planned a protest in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal on January 5. The outfit has said that Murshidabad TMC MP Abu Taher Khan will also participate in the rally, however, the MP denies any involvement.