The Centre’s massive crackdown evoked strong reaction from the PFI which has enforced a “hartal” in Kerala, which has been the organisation’s stronghold.
Here is a look at how the organisation which was formed in 2006 has spread its wings over the years.
Following the Babri Masjid demolition, a group of Muslim activists, including some leaders of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), mooted the idea of a more aggressive organisation, one committed to the cause of ‘Muslim-Dalit-Backward classes’.
This led to the formation of National Development Front (NDF) in 1993. After more than a decade of eventful existence in Kerala, the NDF leaders thought of spreading their wings in other states where there was scope for furthering their cause. Bringing together like-minded organisations such as Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) and Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) in Tamil Nadu, NDF transformed itself into an all-India organisation called Popular Front of India (PFI) at a conference held in Bengaluru in 2006.
Now, PFI has a presence in more than 18 states in India and has affiliated outfits like Campus Front, National Women’s Front and All India Imam’s Council. Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political front of the PFI, was launched in 2009. PFI leaders are active in the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO) and the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP).
According to PFI’s constitution, its members “must keep away from vices like alcohol and drugs”.
Reasons behind PFI’s surge
The outfit has successfully tapped into the insecurities and fears of the Muslim community in view of the Hindu consolidation across the country and the rise of the BJP as the nation’s pre-eminent political and ideological force. The post-2014 political landscape and the alienation of Muslims has further pushed sections of the community towards groups like the PFI which go out of their way to help Muslims in distress.
The PFI is said to have more than 4 lakh members in the country besides millions of supporters who are wary of joining it formally because of its controversial nature. It collects large sums of money which it uses to help community members in need as well as to spread its message wider. The outfit is also said to have a large number of supporters in Gulf countries who contribute handsomely to its kitty, something which is under the scanner of investigating agencies.
Starting out as an organisation primarily rooted in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the PFI has spread its wings far and wide, with a presence in at least 18 states. It has found particularly fertile ground in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Assam. Its increasing popularity could be seen in large ‘unity marches’ in Rajasthan and West Bengal.
Events like the Delhi violence and the Citizenship Amendment Act, which aggrieved Muslims further, provided groups like PFI the opportunity to work closely with the community and position itself as a champion of Muslim causes. Authorities have accused the outfit of instigating and funding protests against the CAA and the National Register of Citizens.
In order to widen its reach, the PFI works with under-privileged Muslims and provides them with monetary support wherever needed. It provides scholarships to Muslim students for higher studies, particularly in the fields of journalism, law and human rights.
Another strategic intervention is in the area of providing legal aid. With large numbers of Muslim youth accused of terror acts languishing in jails, the PFI provides these mostly poor men with legal assistance. While the group maintains that it is doing humanitarian work considering the poor socio-economic profile of the accused, its critics see this as a cynical ploy to win over loyalty and support of those it helped to walk away free.
Some important cases
Massacre of nine people at Marad in Kozhikode in 2003: Judicial commission said the killing would not have occurred without the knowledge at least the local leadership of NDF.
Chopping of Prof T J Joseph’s hand in 2010: 13 PFI activists punished by sessions court.
‘Arms training camp’ in Narath in Kannur in 2013: NIA court awarded punishment to 21 accused.