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Why PFI ban should not be politicised | UnBreak the News with Prema Sridevi | Ep:94

The Centre on Tuesday banned the PFI and its eight affiliate organisations for five years but soon a controversy erupted in India. Here’s the latest episode of UnBreak the News with Prema Sridevi!

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The Centre banned PFI and its affiliate organisations on Tuesday but soon opposition parties and several organisations called out the government over its decision. Some even went to the extent of comparing the PFI with the RSS. Should the PFI ban be politicised? Prema Sridevi UnBreaks this News for you!

(Produced below are the transcripts of the video explainer from Episode: 94 | UnBreak the News with Prema Sridevi | Title: Why PFI ban should not be politicised) 

by Prema Sridevi 

Over a decade ago, when I was working in one of my former organisations, I went to Kerala to do an investigative story on SIMI’s terror training camp that was held in the hilly regions of Vagamon on the Kottayam-Idukki border. 

My investigations and the evidence I collected led me to the home of Shibli and Shaduli, two young men who were accused of having taken part in the SIMI terror training camp. While in their living room, I saw a half-opened drawer with a revolver. There were pamphlets and sticks stacked in the hallway. A very close family member of the men told me it was a toy gun, and the pamphlets were immediately moved out of my sight. The family member said to me that the men were innocent and that they were not terrorists.

As time passed, the two men were arrested, and terrorism charges were slapped on them and they were placed in Bhopal jail. This year, both Shibli and Shaduli, along with 36 others, were awarded death sentences in the 2008 Ahmedabad Serial Blast case. 

As I continued to report on the banned SIMI outfit, through the years, I met many ex-SIMI members who said they were now leaders of the Popular Front of India (PFI). SIMI was banned in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. For people who have followed SIMI for years, it was no secret that the Popular Front of India was an avatar of SIMI. Founded in 2006, the PFI was an ambitious outfit, unlike SIMI.

PFI had the money, the best legal minds and tremendous support poured in from the Middle Eastern countries. As a journalist, if you wrote a hard-hitting piece against them, they would flood you with legal notices. For years, UPA 1 and UPA 2 governments did not ban PFI in India. Many claimed it was because of political reasons. When the BJP government finally banned it, many said this too had political overtones. But PFI is more than politics. It can’t and shouldn’t be looked through the tainted prism of left and right. What does this ban mean for the Popular Front of India, and why should this issue not be politicised? Let’s UnBreak this news! 

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a six-page circular and banned the PFI and its associates by declaring it an unlawful association. The charges are serious. The Popular Front of India, Rehab India Foundation, Campus Front of India, Empower India Foundation, Rehab Foundation, Junior Front, All India Imams Council, National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation and National Women’s Front - overall PFI and eight affiliate organisations have been banned for five years. 

With this ban, the Popular Front of India has been added to the list of 42 banned terrorist organisations under section 35 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The government circular states: “The PFI created the associates, affiliates or front organisations with an objective of enhancing its reach among different sections of the society, such as the youth, students, women, Imams, lawyers or weaker sections of the society with the sole objective of expanding its membership, influence and fundraising capacity.” 

The security agencies have said that PFI cleverly disguised itself as a socio-economic and political organisation, but they have been pursuing a “secret agenda”. And that agenda is to “undermine the concept of democracy in India”. Some of PFI’s members are the leaders of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). It has been stated that PFI has linkages to ISIS and has indulged in criminal and terror-related cases. One of the most gruesome of the cases was the chopping of the limb of Kerala professor TJ Joseph in 2010.

When raids were conducted against PFI, it was found that the funds deposited on behalf of PFI in various bank accounts were not supported by the financial profiles of the account holders. Over the last few days, at least 270 people with alleged links to PFI have been either detained or arrested by law enforcement agencies. 

Way back in 2010 itself, the Kerala police had seized country-made bombs and propaganda material related to Taliban and Al-Qaeda from PFI activists. In 2017 Kerala police identified several PFI members who joined ISIS and moved to Syria using fake passports. In the same year, a founding member of the PFI told an Indian journalist that the motive of the PFI was to create an Islamic state in India. Indian security agencies also found that PFI played a role in the 2011 Mumbai bombings, 2012 Pune bombings and the 2013 Hyderabad blasts.

From terror activities, kidnapping, arson, political murders, organising protests to create communal unrest and forced conversions - PFI has been accused of many crimes. But UPA 1 and 2 never banned the outfit. Many say this was because of political reasons, and now, when the ban has been imposed on the outfit, this too has been given political colours. 

The issue at hand is national security, and there can be no compromise. India must fight terrorism with one voice and unified action. Elements and groups that want to polarise this issue should be identified and dealt with swiftly and transparently to secure faith in our systems and judicial processes. The rise and growth of any form of extremism based on violent religious polarisation is a threat to democracy. But at the same time, justifying PFI and terrorism by equating it to the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal, as politicians are now doing, is as irresponsible as it is dangerous. Terrorism must be singularly seen as a national security issue. There are no two ways about it.