Kerala government orders collectors and police chiefs to crack down on banned PFI

The order arguably gives the police almost blanket authority to surveil and prosecute suspected PFI activity

September 29, 2022 03:46 pm | Updated 04:28 pm IST

General Secretary of the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI), Abdul Sattar, after being arrested from Karunagappally in Kollam district, Wednesday, September 28

General Secretary of the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI), Abdul Sattar, after being arrested from Karunagappally in Kollam district, Wednesday, September 28 | Photo Credit: PTI

A video on the Popular Front of India (PFI)
What is the Popular Front of India and why has it been controversial?

Signalling a major escalation against the banned Popular Front of India (PFI) and its affiliates, the Kerala government has ordered District Magistrates, Commissioners of Police and District Police Chiefs to clamp down on illegal associations, unlawful fund collection and notify properties used by the outlawed organisation under section 7 and 8 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 in their respective jurisdictions.

The order arguably gives the police almost blanket authority to surveil and prosecute suspected PFI activity.

Affiliates under scanner

The crackdown would extend to PFI's alleged affiliates. The organisations under the law enforcement's scanner are Rehab India Foundation (RIF), Campus Front of India (CFI), All India Imams Council (AIIC) and National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation (NCHRO, National Women's Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation and Rehab Foundation. District magistrates will likely seal their offices and freeze bank accounts.

Also read: PFI in Kerala disbands itself

A senior police official said the law enforcement had earlier flagged the attempt by the CFI to radicalise a particular section of students in colleges across Kerala. He said the crackdown would cover the CFI.

The police had booked CFI leaders for the murder of SFI activist Abhimanyu in Maharaja's College, Ernakulam, in 2018.

Social media monitoring

The Central government has also banned the PFI's Twitter account. It might apply the same yardstick to the CFI. The Kerala police were also monitoring social media for signs of PFI activity.

The Centre's case against the PFI was that it had used human rights organisations, educational trusts and charities, and personality development centres as a cover for its "extremist activities", including fund collection.

By delegating powers to the Kerala government to impose the UAPA provisions, the Centre has opened the door for the State administration to seal offices, freeze bank accounts and keep a watch out for PFI's possible attempts to resurrect itself under other guises.

Also read: The Popular Front of India, its origins, presence, and controversies

Funders and underground cells on the radar

By some accounts, the State police intelligence has already gathered information on the PFI's funders in Kerala, including some expatriate organisations.

It also tracked those on the PFI's muster rolls, suspecting they might cross over to other organisations to dodge the ban.

The police also believe that PFI had secret cells, whose members rarely figured in the organisation's muster rolls.

An official said the underground cells existed to afford PFI leaders deniability in the event of a criminal investigation.

Extremist links

The Union Home Ministry has cited PFI's alleged links to the proscribed Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Jamat-Ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to justify the ban.

It has accused PFI leaders of using laundered money to fund martial training of its cadres to prepare them for the Islamist cause.

PFI in Kerala

The PFI was established in Kerala in 2006, purportedly by leaders of the now defunct National Development Front (PDF). The organisation has some measure of support in the State.

On Wednesday, a press release issued in the name of PFI State general secretary Abdul Sattar said the organisation had disbanded itself in adherence to the Central government's decision.

The same day, the Kollam police in Kerala took Mr. Sattar into custody from his office in Karungapally and handed him over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Centre's top ant--terrorist agency.

Earlier, the NIA had arrested several top leaders of the PFI from their homes in Kerala and transported them to New Delhi to face UAPA charges. The sweeping raids also targeted PFI offices across the State.

"Criminal" links

The PFI earned some measure of notoriety in 2010 when persons alleged to PFI cadres chopped off the palm of a college teacher for preparing a question paper that allegedly blasphemed against Islam. Later, the police linked PFI activists to several political murders, including the retaliatory killings of RSS leaders in Alappuzha and Palghat.

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