In November 2006, a meeting is held in Kozhikode that decides to merge three Muslim organisations from three southern states – National Democratic Front of India from Kerala, Karnataka Forum for Dignity from Karnataka and Neethi Pasarai from Tamil Nadu. NDF of Kerala is the strongest amongst them. In its Aftermath a new entity emerges, the Popular Front of India (PFI). This organization was formed by the merger of these three innocuous sounding organisations, their names and particulars having nothing even remotely suggesting Islamic, let alone Islamic Fundamentalism, unlike say the Indian Mujahiddin. The founders were careful to make it a social and cultural organisation on paper. They had had the experience of being banned for Terrorist Activities as many of them were leaders of SIMI and had experienced it first hand previously. This was a Machiavellian move. In the aftermath of the ban on SIMI following the Events of 9/11, organizers of anti-social organizations turned wiser as to how to skirt around and mask their surreptitious agenda. This agenda largely comprised activities spreading paranoia and victimhood amongst the Muslims and encashing on this paranoia for recruiting and radicalising Muslims specially the impressionable youth. Such a dedicated cadre was to be used for pushing the Agenda of making India an Islamic nation, indulging in Acts of Terrorism and perpetrating the agenda of Global Fundamentalist Organisations in India.
PFI had sharply come under the Radar when in 2016 workers associated with the organization had attacked and severed the hand of a Professor in Kerala, Shri T S Joseph. Reportedly this act was undertaken by PFI to teach him a lesson as one of the questions set in the examination paper by Professor Joseph was perceived as disrespecting the prophet and hence blasphemous. A picture then of the true intent and modus operandi of a purportedly social welfaresque agency then begins to be revealed.
Agencies will have to remain even more vigilant now. Anecdotal experience suggests that pursuant to the ban PFI cadres may go underground as in the case of previous instances, notably SIMI. Therein they may indulge in anti national and terrorist activity. Past experience shows that Banning can only be one bold and effective step but does not annihilate the influence of an organisation. Eternal vigilance is required to control underground activity, regrouping and surfacing of such outfits under another banner.
Prior to the above incident, in 2012 itself the Government of Kerala had stated in the High Court that PFI is a metamorphose of SIMI, the banned Terrorist outfit with at least 27 cases of murder of RSS and CPM workers registered to its name. Further in 2014, the Government of Kerala had stated on Affidavit in the High Court that PFI was indulging in Conversions and was pushing the Agenda of Islamisation. Thus we have on-record statements from the Executive Branch of State government regarding PFI’s activities.
In the year 2020, two PFI members were arrested for spreading Riots in North East Delhi. In 2021, after the Hathras gang rape PFI cadres tried to fan fires along communal lines, under a conspiracy to spread disharmony and riots. With a plethora of offences of indulging in anti social and criminal activity the rebate and concessions granted to PFI , by virtue of its status as a charitable social agency, by the Income Tax Department were withdrawn. Last year in Patna, prior to the PM’s visit, murders were orchestrated by the PFI. Raids in Phulwari Sharif in Patna in July this year discovered literature and CDs etc with propaganda material of Al Qaeda. This last underscores that PFI was also working to build international linkages and erect a global society of terror, capitalizing on the technological, communication flows unleashed by globalization.
This week the intelligence agencies swooped down on PFI in the largest anti terror operation till date. In a bold and swift move in the small hours of the 22nd of September, an incredibly well-researched and well-orchestrated Operation was carried out. There were no red herrings or false alarms. The country’s elite Internal Security Corps, the National Investigative Agency (NIA) knew exactly what it was doing. It knew exact locations, handlers and operatives. From a policing point of view, this suggests top-notch Intelligence and Reconnaissance labour, the result of detailed man-hours by the Intelligence Personnel.
Countrywide, synchronized simultaneous raids were conducted on prominent centres of PFI in seventeen States and more than two hundred and forty of PFI members were arrested. Timing was of import as it kept the element of surprise intact and the Upper Hand with the security agencies. Extensive incriminating evidence was unearthed. One more set of raids was conducted on the 25th September finding yet more evidence. In a crisp strike the Federal Government led by PM Narendra Modi came down heavily on this Terrorist outfit banning Popular Front of India and eight of its close associates for five years under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act(UAPA). Subsequently, their offices and Social Media Presence including Twitter Handles have been de-activated.
This bold strike was preceded by a full years’ watch on PFI and its Associates. The synchronised searches on 22nd of September at over 26 places in the country discovered incendiary, incriminating, inflammatory literature with a systematic campaign to make India an Islamic country by 2047- the year 2047 set as a deadline for Ghajwa-e-Hind, the Islamic conquest of India. In addition the searches threw up detailed Terror Manuals on varied tools of promoting terrorism from highly technical, hard core, practical art of making bombs to the soft art of influencing people, indoctrination, psychological warfare, promoting strife in the community. There was outlines the massive emphasis of detailed procedures for recruiting cadres for PFI and its associates from amongst the Muslim community by injecting an artificial sense of persecution amongst them, isolating them and giving them a prominent separate identity. The cadres thus recruited were radicalised using age old brain-washing methods. At an estimate they have radicalised at least two lakh Muslims into hardcore fundamentalists.
Such large-scale operations by a non-governmental organization require a substantial corpus. This pre-requisite was fulfilled via Irregular financial transactions. Details of these were uncovered including Hawala and acts of money laundering. Funds received from abroad were regularly laundered to make them appear local in origin.
Documents recovered also show dubious financial flows not only within the country but also in remittances from abroad.
The cadres of the banned outfit SIMI had regrouped to form PFI. This time around they wanted to have a public façade of a socio-cutural organisation to ward off the questioning eyes. Some of the Auxiliary organisations did social work and helped public to garner support and sympathy. One such Organization even focussed on Rehab Work. Anticipating investigation, these organizations spent the first few years in keeping away from the public eye, enhancing their base and recruiting a large number of people. With the kind of activities they were engaging in they knew that sooner or later they would be banned and worked diligently on a Plan B. They organised themselves in a way that their core activities could continue even if the orgnisation is banned under the garb of civil and social activities like women empowerment, human rights, legal aid, rehabilitation, service in the school and university campus and such civil society activities that could carry forward their real insidious agenda. For this reason, Government of India has done very well to ban eight affiliated organisations by name alongside PFI. Underneath it all they were running a Ghazwa-e-Hind campaign all along to make India a State governed by Islam and Sharia.
One of the associated organisation, Campus Front of India had brainwashed young girls to insist on wearing Hijab in schools and colleges violating the uniform rules. Even now it is Campus Front of India that is threatening to go the Court for challenging the ban.
Even as PFI called itself a social and cultural orgnisation, it’s associated units whitewashed themselves by a few good deeds during Covid to gain public acceptance, sympathy and confidence.
The experience with Indian Mujahiddin and SIMI shows that organisations with radicalism, fundamentalism, Terrorism and Islamic Agenda can quickly metamorphose and shape shift into new moulds of organization.
PFI has identical ideology as the banned Student Islamic Movement of India and their leaders are drawn from the SIMI as well. PFI also has linkages with ISIS and Jamat Ul Majahiddin Bangladesh(JMB). PFI has masterminded and executed many a violent militant activity like chopping off the hand of Prof Joseph, murders, coordinating and intensifying protests like CAA, Delhi Riots. Their endeavour was spreading paranoia amongst the Muslims, emphasising the Muslim identity over and above the Citizen’s national Indian identity , recruiting and radicalising youth at a mass level, spreading unrest in the society.
A new trend associated with radicalization is that the background of persons engaging in it, tends to be middle-class and wholesome. The PFI incident also displayed this same characteristic. PFI has amongst its members Professors, teachers, Government Servants, Lawyers, Engineers and Techies, Software Professionals (with one PFI member having had a stint in the European Telecom MNC Ericsson), Lecturers, Government Employees are some of the Professions of the persons involved. It can be inferred that by virtue of their professions they shall enjoy a dignified position in society. This makes them wield more informal authority and influence in society.
PFI is a more virulent strain of banned SIMI with excessively poisoned cadres. Many of the now arrested E Abubacker, P Koya, EM Abdurrahiman occupied senior positions in SIMI also. Vigilance and stringent measures are required to finish off the Hydra headed organisations of perpetrators of terrorism and prevent their regrouping yet under and innocuous sounding manifesto.
It is heartening that many Muslim organisations across the country have supported the ban on PFI stating national interest as supreme. This includes Sufi Sajjadnashin Council, Barelvi, Pasmanda, Muslim Student Orgnisation, Sufi Islamic Board. This Re-iterates that there is space for an Indian Muslim Identity which prioritizes national interest.
Agencies will have to remain even more vigilant now. Anecdotal experience suggests that pursuant to the ban PFI cadres may go underground as in the case of previous instances, notably SIMI. Therein they may indulge in anti national and terrorist activity. Past experience shows that Banning can only be one bold and effective step but does not annihilate the influence of an organisation. Eternal vigilance is required to control underground activity, regrouping and surfacing of such outfits under another banner. Serious attempts are being made to make it a community specific organisation and to perceive it as a community based action.
Even the reaction of many leaders from RJD to AIMIM reflects their ambivalence towards the issue discounting National Security for vote bank politics.
The experience with Indian Mujahiddin and SIMI shows that organisations with radicalism, fundamentalism, Terrorism and Islamic Agenda can quickly metamorphose and shape shift into new moulds of organization. From a law and order perspective, continuous informal reconnaissance supported with stringent counter defence measures needs must be maintained. Also the PFI has a strong latent leadership, Plan B that they have, modelled on the Muslim Brotherhood that operates largely in the Arab countries and Turkey, who have a layered administrative structure to circumvent bans and other legal actions.
There is no doubt that PM Modi has claimed for himself the place of the foremost leader in the world. According to Morning Consult, an agency engaged in rating world leaders, PM Modi the once ‘divisive, communal, uncouth, fascist’ bete noire of the left liberals has retained the top position, leaving the competition in the dust, for over the second successive year. It is not only because of his statesmanship and strategic acumen in the international arena but more so for his ability to take these proactive and prompt decisions striking on roots of national and international Terrorism. Such beneficial operations ensure national security without considerations of political exigencies that govern the diabolical stand of the Opposition parties in the country. One remains confident that the decisive stance to flush out such insidious organizations will continue resolutely.