After simultaneous raids at multiple locations by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on September 22 and mass arrests of activists of the Popular Front of India (PFI) the organisation was banned under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notified on September 28 that the PFI and its associates or affiliates were banned.
The MHA in a press release stated that the fronts have been found to be involved in serious offences, including terrorism and its financing, targeted gruesome killings, disregarding the constitutional set up of the country, disturbing public order etc. which are prejudicial to the integrity, security, and sovereignty of the country.
Therefore, the Ministry of Home Affairs says it was necessary to curb the nefarious activities of the organization and has hence declared the Popular Front of India (PFI) along with its associates or affiliates or fronts including Rehab India Foundation (RIF), Campus Front of India (CFI), All India Imams Council (AIIC), National Confederation of Human Rights Organization (NCHRO), National Women’s Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation and Rehab Foundation, Kerala as an “unlawful association” under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 as per a statement by the Ministry.
The coordinated raids and arrest were planned based on documents and information collected by the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
The PFI was quick in declaring closure of the entities with possibility of contesting the Ban in a court of law. PFI chairman O.M.A Salam claimed that this was a witch hunt and the raids were, "politically motivated".
The PFI was founded in 2007, a year after the merger of three Muslim groups — the National Democratic Front in Kerala, the Karnataka Forum for Dignity and the Manitha Neethi Pasarai in Tamil Nadu as per the Economic Times.
The group has indulged in violent activities targeting opponents in the past and was also involved in the anti Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA protests in 2019 but has escaped the radar of the law enforcement agencies.
Some claim that the ban comes too late as the roots of the organisation has grown through out the country as was obvious from arrests made in multiple states.
Significantly in a nuanced move to separate the radicals from their political roots, Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), seen as the political arm of the PFI was not banned by the MHA.
In 2009, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) which has origins in the PFI, was formed with the intent of "advancement and uniform development of all the citizenry including Muslims, Dalits, Backward Classes and Adivasis," and to "share power fairly among all the citizens."
The SDPI is now planning demonstrations across Tamil Nadu. Seminars and discussions have also been planned to mobilise the pubic particularly youth. These may expand to other states.
What shape this new direction that SDPI is taking remains to be seen? Obviously the activities will remain under close observation of the intelligence agencies.
Concerns of Radicalisation and Response
At the same time foreign organisations and terrorist groups are seeking to attract the radicalised members of the PFI who have not been caught in the NIA dragnet. These are expected to be operating underground through sleeper cells. Tracking their activities will assume importance to proactively prevent a terrorist incident.
Political engagement of the sections of society that were attracted by the PFI and the SDPI through its ideology of radicalism and softening their extremist views is also essential for which grass roots groups will have to be mustered apart from a sophisticated information campaign countering the radicalisation narrative.
This will remain a long process but may have to be undertaken nonetheless soonest if not already on the radar of national security managers.