Amidst protest over CAA, Centre to defer banning PFI

PFI’s association with the people right from the grassroots is the key reason behind its immense clout.

Hyderabad: The year was 2010. They were 54 of them — young, hardline men who had divided themselves into teams — one for reconnaissance, another for preparations, a pilot team (the one which would lead), a harbouring team (to provide shelter and other logistics after the operation), attack team and the finance team.

A three-member team was deputed to prepare a sketch of the route to the house of their target. Thereafter, surveillance was mounted and their plan executed to the T.

This, in short, was the planning that went into the brutal attack on Kerala professor T.J. Joseph in 2010, whose hand was chopped off allegedly by members of the Popular Front of India (PFI) for offending the religious sentiments of the community.

Now, almost a decade later, as the officials in the Union home ministry have pieced together a fresh dossier listing out the “operational capabilities” of the PFI (including the one above) in the wake of violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the decision on banning the outfit is likely to be deferred, at least for now.

The reason: At a time when Muslims across the country are up in arms against the CAA, a move to ban the PFI, which has a massive support base across the country, will be perceived as yet another anti-Muslim move and could invite further trouble.

Well informed sources told Deccan Chronicle that during a recent high-level meeting in the Union home ministry to assess the internal security situation in the wake of the CAA protests, the “operational capabilities” of the PFI and their other activities came up for discussion.

When it was mentioned that since its inception in 2006, the PFI has been expanding its support base rapidly across the length and breadth of the country and has a fan base not only within the country but outside as well, one of the views that emerged was that banning the outfit at this juncture could lead to more protests. “It would be seen as anti-Muslim,” it was felt. Already, the CAA and the fears of implementation of the NRC have branded the Narendra Modi government as anti-Muslim.

Going into minute details as to what gives the PFI such immense clout in the community, officials said that its association with the people right from the grassroots is the key. Officials who have followed every development concerning the PFI including their growth story since 2006 say that the organisation’s community outreach programmes and social work has contributed immensely to their popularity.

Ever since it was formed, the PFI has been organising massive campaigns on several issues. For example, they organised an ‘Empower India’ conference in Bengaluru in 2007 which ended with a rally and saw the participation of thousands of people — just one year after the organisation was born.

Similarly, the PFI has been organising marathons, events titled ‘Healthy People, Healthy Nation’ to promote health and hygiene. The outfit has labelled itself as a socio-political organisation which works towards empowerment of minority and marginalised sections. To expand its footprint, the PFI has even collaborated with smaller organisations in different states.

“These mega events have been organised across every part of the country. It found massive support and within a couple of years after its inception PFI had already established itself. Most of their events have been largely successful,” a senior official who was involved in various investigations involving the PFI, said.

“However, on the other hand their members got involved with love jihad, chopping of the hand of the Kerala professor, political killings, arms training among others. The governments were all the time concerned that banning the outfit will go against them politically and will invite trouble. Therefore, as the government looked the other way, the PFI was growing rapidly for over 13 years. Now that violence took part in the anti-CAA agitations, they are back in focus,” the officer said.

Back in 2012, when the Kerala government had sought a ban on the PFI the Centre ignored the request, keeping in view the massive support base of the outfit. It is learnt that though the proposal to ban the PFI was brought before the previous UPA government as well, each time it was deferred on one pretext or the other.

Before the CAA and the NRC, the organisation had started a campaign “for justice” after the Ayodhya verdict was delivered by the Supreme Court.

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