There will be little reason for disquiet at the Popular Front of India being termed a radical Islamist organisation that propagates a politics of exclusivism and communalism even if it professes adherence to constitutional values and has, according to its claims, taken part in social and legal activities benefiting Muslims across India. That is because of actions by PFI cadre, in Kerala and coastal Karnataka in particular, resulting in religious and political violence, and vigilantism in the name of religious sentiments being hurt. While the PFI has grown as an organisation since its formation in 2006 — largely due to its assertive actions in the legal and social fronts that have coincided with the rise of Hindutva forces to political hegemony in India, its perceived political and electoral arm, the Social Democratic Party of India has received little support, with minority voters preferring to back secular parties or moderate communitarian forces. The PFI is the Islamic variant of communal politics and the mirror image of the majoritarian current gripping several parts of India. It goes without saying that its activists who have been charged with violence, vigilantism and unlawful acts must be subject to legal scrutiny and brought to justice. But the outright ban on the PFI and its affiliated organisations — barring the SDPI which claims to be independent of it — by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) raises the question whether a sledgehammer approach is the correct course.
The MHA notification, released on September 27, declared the PFI and its affiliates as an “unlawful association” that was “pursuing a secret agenda to radicalise a particular section of society towards undermining democracy”, and the ban for five years followed a series of raids and arrests. This omnibus approach towards banning the PFI and effecting indiscriminate arrests instead of a clear case-to-case judicial process of bringing guilty activists and leaders to book, could only end up strengthening the sense of disquiet at the treatment of minorities in the country and could also further radicalisation among disaffected sections. Deradicalisation is not just a task left to law enforcement agencies; it should be the consequence of reorienting governance to live up to the secular values propounded by the Constitution — something that has taken a beating in recent years. Meanwhile, the organisation has responded to the ban by announcing that it stands disbanded following the notification. The ban must not be utilised as a means to target Muslims, specifically political dissidents and democratic activists who have engaged in legitimate protests against discriminatory pieces of legislation such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.