Muslim Group Banned in India for Alleged ‘Terror’ Links

More than 350 arrested . . .

On Wednesday, the Indian government banned the Islamic political organization Popular Front of India (PFI) and all its affiliates for five years. The ban follows nationwide raids on the PFI led by India’s anti-terror agency, the National Investigation Agency, and the financial crimes investigative agency, the Enforcement Directorate. The raids led to the arrest of more than 350 people, including key leaders. The crackdown on the organization was based on intelligence that the PFI and its affiliates were funding acts of terrorism, organizing weapons training, and radicalizing people in the country. Over the years, a call to ban the PFI emerged from all corners of the political spectrum.

What is the PFI?

The PFI was established in 2006 to counter Hindu-nationalist groups and was created through a merger of three groups in southern India – in Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. While the PFI was active in 20 of India’s 28 states, its presence was concentrated in the country’s south, especially in Kerala, the home base for PFI leaders. The Indian government said it has evidence linking the PFI and its affiliates to global terror organizations like ISIL, and that the PFI engaged in terror activities in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Domestically, PFI attracted international condemnation in 2010 when associated activists severed the hand of a professor in Kerala over his alleged blasphemy. Since last week’s arrests, the PFI’s supporters have launched violent and disruptive protestsacross the country, particularly in Kerala.

Crackdown raises questions . . .

Although politically opposite, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have vocally supported the ban on the PFI. But some critics have asked whether the government also intends to scrutinize and investigate right-wing Hindu extremist organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent group of the BJP. Furthermore, the government used the contentious Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the country's anti-terror law, to ban the PFI and its affiliates. The UAPA has allowed and will allow authorities to arrest PFI-associated people immediately and without the possibility of bail. While the PFI claims to have dissolved most of its organization and membership, the Indian government can still add it to the list of 42 terror organizations in India, alongside groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Khalistan Liberation Force.