Investigators from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) were shocked when they swooped down on a clandestine meeting in north Kerala’s Kanakamala in Kannur in 2016. A group of young people, inspired by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization, had allegedly formed a collective named “Al Zarul Khallefa” to wage war against the country and instigate trouble between different communities.
First IS module in Kerala
Later, it was named by the NIA as the first IS module in Kerala. It was later found that some of those arrested were members of the Popular Front of India (PFI). A few months later, at least 22 people, including women and children, went missing from a village in northern Kerala. Intelligence officials believe they joined IS in Afghanistan.
PFI and its associates banned
One name that usually crops up after every communal riots or terrorist module in the country is the the Popular Front of India. After the angry protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA, and the subsequent violence, this name is back on the radar of intelligence agencies. And now the Centre has finally banned the PFI and its eight associates for 5 years under anti-terror law.
How PFI cropped up and reason behind its growth?
But how did this organization come into existence and what is the reason for its pan-Indian presence in such a short period of time? The Popular Front of India (PFI) was formed in Kerala in 2006 after the merger of three Muslim organizations formed after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. These three organizations are – the National Development Front of Kerala, Karnataka Forum for Dignity and Manitha Neethi Pasari of Tamil Nadu. After Babri Mosque demolition, many fringe outfits cropped up in South India and PFI was formed after some of them were merged.
The PFI now claims to have units in 22 states, which intelligence agencies admit is a phenomenal growth and say it has successfully exploited a growing vacuum in the community by taking on the role of a saviour. The PFI managed to raise funds, especially from the rich countries of the Middle East. The PFI’s former headquarters was in Kozhikode, but after expanding its base, it was moved to Delhi. PFI President Nasaruddin Elamarom is one of the founding leaders of the outfit, while its all-Indian president, E Abubaker, is also from Kerala.
Drills and unity marches
In Kerala, most of its former leaders were members of the Banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The PFI describes itself as a neo-social movement that works for the empowerment of people belonging to minorities, Dalits and other weaker sections of the society. In Kerala, a retired teacher, P Koya, is considered the tallest leader of the organization.
PFI members frequently conducts drills in public places in uniform. In 2013, the Kerala government had banned its Freedom Parade, which takes place every year on Independence Day, after police discovered that its cadres were wearing stars and emblems on their uniforms. Every year on February 17, it organizes unity marches in all the district headquarters. It has cadre training centers in many districts and usually works with numerous human rights organizations to get a sombre face, as per police officials.
Involvement in political murders
Since its creation, the group had been involved in numerous clashes and political assassinations. It is believed to have been involved in at least 30 political murders in Kerala. In 2015, 13 of its members were sentenced to life in prison for chopping the palm of a college professor, TJ Joseph, who prepared a question paper alleged to be blasphemous. Two years ago, six PFI members were arrested in connection with the murder of an ABVP leader in Kannur. Last year, nine PFI activists were held for the alleged killing of SFI leader Abhimanyu in Maharajas College in Ernakulam.
The Kerala government filed an affidavit in the High Court in 2014 stating that its activists were involved in at least 27 political killings, 86 cases of attempt to murder and more than 125 cases of inciting communal passions.
‘Love Jihad’ cases
In the Hadiya Jehan case which broke two years ago, Hadiya alias Akhila’s father, K Asokan, claimed that her husband, Shefin Jehan, was an active member of the PFI. Police later discovered that Akihla had converted in Sathya Sarani, a PFI-controlled religious school in Malappuram district. Its name had also appeared in alleged cases of “Love Jihad”.