PFI ban and after: Why the threat still looms large?
Ban on the PFI will remain a one-time nuisance unless all states are sensitive to its threat to country's unity.
India woke up last week to unprecedented nationwide raids on the Popular Front of India (PFI) locations by NIA, ED and state police. These were repeated the next few days and still continue, though sporadically. More than 264 houses of their leaders, offices and training centres have so far been searched, over 540 local, state, national leaders and workers detained in 14 states and several bank accounts frozen. The PFI and its innocuous sounding 8 affiliates like Campus Front of India, Rehab Foundation, Empower India Foundation and National Confederation of Human Rights were banned by the Central Government for five years.
The scale of operation shows how deeply and widely PFI got entrenched in past 16 years, thanks to state governments led by politicians with sinister electoral agenda. Significantly, its growth was directly proportional to the extent of patronage it received from them, which explains why states could not or did not want to see the writing on the wall. The states that bore the brunt of police action were Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and, of course Kerala, which was the home of PFI since 2006 and the new avatar of SIMI, banned in 2001 for involvement in anti-national activities. Naturally, protests to raids were the fiercest in Kerala, resulting in massive destruction of private and government properties and mindless violence against people and policemen.
Raids did evoke criticism, as usual, from the opposition party leaders, some Muslim organizations and myopic liberals, though these were less strident to avoid annoying Hindu sentiments. If the PFI was a terrorist organization, why did NDA wait for 8 long years, they asked. Was it timed to reap electoral benefit in Gujarat and Himachal elections? In a balancing act, they also demanded ban on the RSS, called for fairness in investigation, sought public justification for raids and what necessitated arrests and search and an assurance for not misusing central agencies to further harass the minority. Obviously, they did not want to alienate Muslims either.
For any police or intelligence agency, it is always a challenge to collect information about plans, modus operandi and infrastructure of a secretive terrorist outfit. You do come across inputs but not precise enough to initiate action. You have to mark time and pick straws of information floating around and then try to weave them into a script to understand what they are up to. Even the CIA knew hardly anything about Al-Qaeda until the twin towers in New York were blown up.
So, for the last eight years, inputs were being gathered and analysed by agencies. The PFI kept popping up on their radar for radicalizing Muslim youths and sending select few to fight for ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, their connect with terror outfits -Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen of Bangladesh, Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Al-Qaida-linked Turkish Charity Foundation for human rights - for forcibly converting Hindus and Christians to Islam, inciting communal tension, stoking communal riots, organizing targeted killings for alleged blasphemy, mobilizing violent protest against CAA, NRC, using boys of 'hit squads' and 'service wing' to kill Hindus, mostly the RSS, and for receiving money through fraudulent donations and hawala from dozens of foreign and local sources in the name of Islamizing India. A propaganda booklet seized from Bihar referred to their objective, plans and modus operandi for making India an Islamic state in 2047, 100 years after its independence. It was, of course, a fool's paradise but still provided an insight in their subversive mindset. Their 'Break-India' activities will be more precisely known once evidences are culled from their interrogation and scrutiny of their bank details, documents and devices.
Five year-ban and raids are fine but they are no defence against PFI's rise again in a deadlier form. The need thus is to keep constant vigil over activities of its leaders and institutions and take action promptly to nip their mischief in the bud. The question is will state governments with different political priorities come together to face this challenge? It is doubtful.
(Amar Bhushan worked with the Research and Analysis Wing for 24 years after briefly serving in the BSF intelligence, State Special Branch and Intelligence Bureau. He served as the Special Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat before he retired in 2005.)
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