After declaring a five-year ban on controversial Islamic organisation, Popular Front of India (PFI), by the Central Government, some well-known Muslim organisations have come in support of PFI and criticised the Government's decision. They claimed that the ban on PFI cannot dismantle its ideology.
Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader K M Shaji said, "A ban can only dismantle the organisation's structure and not its ideology. The majority of the leaders arrested by NIA now were members of SIMI," he said.
The Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was founded in Aligarh in 1977 as the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. The organisation's members declared Jihad against India, aiming to establish Dar-ul-Islam (land of Islam) by forcefully converting everyone to Islam or by violence. The then Government described it as a terrorist organisation and banned it in 2001. The ban was lifted in August 2008 by a special tribunal but was reinstated by K.G. Balakrishnan, then Chief Justice, on 6 August 2008 on national security grounds. In February 2019, the Government of India extended the ban on SIMI for a period of five more years under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
It has been said that many members of SIMI had joined PFI, which was formed on 22 November 2006. They continued their activities under the PFI banner and its organisational setup. They got huge funds from some Muslims living in India and abroad, mostly from middle-east countries.
The PFI was spread across the country in a very short period. They formed their offices in every city. Through campaigns against non-Muslims, they joined like-minded youths with organisations. As a result, they got significant supporters across the country. They spread the hatred ideology, which led to the provocation of several youths associated with the organisation. These provoked youths committed many crimes in which some were found guilty, and cases of many suspects are still under investigation. According to a document of the Home Ministry, the ban came in the wake of over 1,300 criminal cases registered across the country by law enforcement agencies against PFI members. These include offences related to the killing of leaders associated with Hindu organisations, organising suspected terror camps, an alleged radicalisation of youth and links with foreign terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State. Moreover, PFI fuelled following some major nationwide protests in the country, which disturbed the communal harmony -
• Protest against UAPA
PFI trigged nationwide protests after its 21 members were charged with UAPA for involvement in anti-national activities. The protest was carried out in May 2013.
• Reservation for Muslims
In 2010, the National Executive Council of the PFI demanded a ten per cent reservation for Muslims across India.
• Protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)
PFI fuelled protests against the CAA across the country. On 1 January 2020, then Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stated that PFI may have played a part in the violence surrounding some protests against the CAA. The then Uttar Pradesh DGP OP Singh and ACS (home) Awanish Awasthi claimed that the PFI was actively involved in mobilising people.
• Agitate farmer's protest
By extending support to farmer's protests, it has been reported that the support by PFI to the 'farmers protests' along the Haryana-Punjab border comes at a time there are efforts by pro-Khalistan groups to hijack farmer protests.
• Protest against Nupur Sharma
PFI agitated violent protest against then BJP Spokesperson Nupur Sharma when a Muslim scholar provoked her on a TV debate by insulting Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
A protest organised by the PFI in Karnataka in December 2021. (Twitter: Popular Front Karnataka)
• SMS campaign against people of the North-East
After the Assam riots in 2012, investigators traced that PFI and its affiliate organisations launched an SMS hate campaign. This led to a mass exodus of 30,000 people from the cities of Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad and the national capital Delhi. As a result, Union Home Ministry banned bulk SMS and MMS for 15 days to quell rumours and threats.
• Agitate violent protest against Agnipath Scheme
According to the ABP News report, the Campus Front of India, a student wing of PFI, agitated violent protest against Agnipath Scheme. The youths associated with the organisation participated in the protest. During the investigation, police found CFI led provocative messages on social media and WhatsApp accounts belonging to some arrested suspects.
How to restrain hatred ideology?
How to restrict such anti-social Islamic ideology, which has been carried out irrespective of any organisation for the past decades? The anti-social elements are much aware of this challenge. As a result, India may soon see a new organisation based on the ideology carried out by SIMI, PFI and like organisations. The ban may hamper immovable assets like offices, bank accounts and related setups, but what about the mindset behind the hatred ideology? Looking at the network established by PFI, the number of arrested suspects is quite low. Only the top leadership and directly involved suspects in the crime have been arrested. But what about their staunch supporters and sympathisers? Before the ban, nearly 85000 people followed the official account of PFI on Twitter and over lakhs of people followed its Facebook profile, excluding State wise social media profiles.
This revealed that the PFI influenced these huge numbers of people through social media. The NIA has arrested the suspects having educational status from postgraduates to illiterate in connection with PFI so far. This also revealed how the PFI convinced and established its network in the community across the country. This is still a big challenge for the Government agencies and even for non-Muslim communities in the country.