While the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in its notification banning the Popular Front of India (PFI) cites four murder cases of Hindutva activists from Karnataka, all the accused members of PFI in one case were acquitted in 2021.
The notification cites murders of R. Rudresh (2016), Praveen Pujari (2016), Sharath Madiwala (2017), and Praveen Nettaru (2022) in Karnataka, apart from six other murder cases from Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Nine PFI members, including the then Kodagu district secretary of PFI T. A. Haris, arrested for the murder of Praveen Pujari in August, 2016, were all acquitted in the case by the Kodagu district principal sessions court on November 30, 2021. Mr. Pujary was killed near Kushalnagar over tension in the town following a “Sankalpa Yatra” by Hindutva organisations that led to anti-Muslim sloganeering and stone pelting.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had run a campaign in the run-up to the 2018 Assembly elections that 24 Hindutva activists were killed by Muslim fundamentalists, mainly PFI members during the 2013-18 Congress regime. The fact that the then Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had withdrawn 175 cases, including those of rioting and other law and order offences in which PFI members were accused, had given an edge to the campaign.
The then Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy had released a fact sheet in which he said only 10 of the 24 Hindutva activists were killed by members of PFI, SDPI and other Muslim fundamentalists and also alleged that 11 Muslims were killed by members of Hindutva outfits, indicating a cycle of political violence. Recently, BJP worker Praveen Nettaru was hacked to death in Dakshina Kannada, allegedly by PFI activists, triggering fresh demands for banning the organisation in the State.
The PFI has a strong presence in coastal Karnataka. It was formed in 2006 with the merger of Karnataka Forum for Dignity, National Development Front in Kerala, and the Manitha Neethi Pasarai in Tamil Nadu.
Security agencies contend that all the three organisations were offshoots of SIMI after it was banned in 2001. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Wednesday termed PFI a “mutant of SIMI and KFD.” Students’ organisation Campus Front of India (CFI), allegedly an affiliate of PFI, also proscribed on Wednesday, has had a strong presence in the coastal districts of Karnataka.
The State government had recently accused CFI of instigating the hijab row in Udupi. The CFI has gained ground in coastal campuses over the last 10 years. The Social Democratic Party of India, often linked with PFI, has had its presence felt in coastal Karnataka and some Muslim-dominated pockets in Mysuru, Chamarajanagar, and Bengaluru.