The viral video of a child purportedly shouting communally charged slogans during a Popular Front of India (PFI) protest in Kerala’s Alappuzha is a classic example of the extent of Islamist indoctrination spread by extremist groups into the social fabric, say leaders from both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress in Kerala.
However, a blame game between the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Congress and BJP continues over banning the “extremist” group PFI and its political arm Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).
While the Congress has accused the BJP of dragging its feet on passing a central law banning the outfit, it has also said that the CPI(M) government in Kerala led by Pinrayi Vijayan has done nothing to nip it in the bud. The BJP accuses both the CPI(M) and the Congress of fuelling the rise of the PFI for political gains.
A senior Congress leader from Kerala who did not want to be named said that the entire incident including the child’s video shows the extent of indoctrination and polarisation that has seeped into society.
“It is nothing less than a form of militancy with the sole goal of creating unrest and communally charged feelings in the otherwise peaceful state of Kerala. Such organisations have to be banned, there is no doubt about it, “ the leader said.
“The PFI enjoys the support of the Left government and the Congress has always taken a soft stand to ensure it doesn’t lose their minority votes,” said VV Rajesh, Kerala BJP spokesperson, to News18.
He added that both the ruling CPI(M) and the Congress are the main “accused” in fuelling the rise of the PFI.
“They (PFI) are getting stronger because of the strong support from the government of Kerala and the CPI(M). We can come to the conclusion that under the reign of Pinarayi Vijayan, the PFI has become more powerful as no move has been taken to arrest their anti-national activities,” Rajesh said. “On the other hand, the Congress is the prime accused behind these terror activities in Kerala. The Muslim League, which is the ally of the UDF and the Congress, was the main sponsor for the NDF and PFI. That is why they are keeping mum. They are afraid of losing minority votes.”
News18 spoke to senior Congress leader and former chief minister Oommen Chandy who said that India’s strength has been its secularism and people should derive strength from that and not be wavered by acts that tear the social secular fabric.
“The government should derive strength from our secular attitude and also imprint it in the minds of people of being one and not divisive,” he said.
News18 had earlier exclusively reported on the NIA dossier details which had said that the “PFI was the second avatar of the National Development Front which was formed in 1993 after the Babri Masjid demolition and subsequent riots.”
The NIA calls the Popular Front of India a “threat to national security” and in its reports has mentioned how in Kerala there has been a mushrooming of several Muslim radical organisations including the PFI. Its predecessor, National Democratic Front (NDF), in 2006, merged with other like-minded organisations— Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) in Tamil Nadu and the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD)— to form the Popular Front of India. The NIA in its dossier has also mentioned the presence of the PFI in 23 states across the country.
“We are awaiting the central government’s order on banning the outfit. The BJP in the Centre and the state have taken a firm stand that the PFI and SDPI are ‘terror organsiations’ that have to be banned immediately,” Rajesh added.
After the viral video was investigated, the Kerala police booked two PFI leaders, Nawaz Vandanam and Mujeeb, both senior office bearers of the organisation’s Alappuzha unit.
The Kerala High Court too expressed serious concerns about children participating in and being used to shout slogans in such religious-political rallies.
Justice Gopinath sought the legality behind children being present at rallies such as the PFI one and said, “I just want to know if there is any law which prohibits this. These children will grow up with hatred inside them.”
The PFI as an organisation has already been banned in several states and sources in the central government confirm that “very soon” both it and the SDPI will be proscribed in the country.
The PFI first came under police scanner in 2010 when Kerala-based Professor TJ Joseph’s hand was chopped off for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed in a question paper for an internal exam at Newman College, Thodupuzha, where he taught Malayalam.
Be it the hijab and anti-CAA protests in Karnataka, accusations of love jihad and forced conversions in southern India or the gold smuggling racket in Kerala, investigating agencies link the PFI to all of them. Several events over the years have been connected directly or indirectly to the PFI including the recent violence that erupted when Ram Navami processions were taken out in states such as Gujarat, Goa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Jharkhand.
In Karnataka, chief minister Basavaraj Bommai also had made it clear that even the slightest “communal and terror-related activity” will not be tolerated in the state and reiterated that his government has sought a ban on the PFI by the Centre. He also said that as part of its election campaign for the 2023 assembly elections, the BJP will expose and target the Congress on how it withdrew police cases against activists of the Popular Front of India between the years 2013 and 2018.
In 2020, the NIA arrested 17 members of the SDPI and PFI after Bengaluru witnessed violence and arson when a large group of people attacked the KG Halli police station following a Facebook post by the nephew of a Congress MLA, said to have allegedly insulted the Prophet. Three people were killed and several injured.
Amidst all these allegations, counter-allegations, and probes, the ban on the PFI remains elusive. News18 spoke to several leaders at the Centre and they said that the government wants to ensure that the law that will ban terror organisations in the country will be “watertight” and they do not raise their “ugly heads again”.
As for the SDPI, the political arm of the PFI, legal experts say there is no provision in law yet to ban a political party in India.
Anis Ahmed, national general secretary of the Popular Front of India, told News18 that to ban an organisation there have to be valid reasons.
“We believe that by just putting allegations on PFI, it cannot provide any grounds to ban us. All that we have seen until today are just allegations and nothing has been proved. Based on allegations you cannot demand a ban on any organisation,” the spokesperson said. “These allegations are not new. If you see if there is any crime happening anywhere, somehow or other there is an attempt to allege a link with the PFI. Many of the allegations that are made are done so for sensationalisation and when the facts come out, things get disproved.”
The NIA dossier is nothing but a pile full of allegations, he said. “There is nothing concrete in it and nothing has been proven to date. There is no substance in it. Whatever allegations that are being put on PFI, if you compare that with the criminal acts of the BJP and RSS, it is not even 0.1 per cent,” he added.