Scores of Popular Front of India (PFI) activists were detained or arrested as the National Investigation Agency (NIA)-led multi-agency raids on the premises of the organisation and people linked to it across 10 states for allegedly supporting terror activities.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) was among the agencies involved in the raids in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Delhi. Officials said the searches were taking place at the premises of persons involved in terror funding, organising training camps, and radicalising people to join proscribed organisations.
The PFI issued a statement confirming the raids at the homes of its national, state, and local leaders. “The state committee office is also being raided.” PFI said it strongly protests “the fascist regime’s move” to use agencies to silence dissenting voices.
The PFI, which was launched in Kerala in 2006 when three Muslim organisations floated after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 merged, has been under probe including for fuelling the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in 2019-2020.
In February 2021, ED filed a charge sheet against PFI and its student wing Campus Front of India (CFI) in a money laundering case, accusing its members of seeking to “incite communal riots and spread terror”. K A Rauf Sherif, the CFI national general secretary, was among those named in the charge sheet.
In the second charge sheet this year, ED claimed a hotel in the UAE served as a money laundering front for the PFI.
PFI’s Delhi chief was among those detained on Thursday. In Karnataka, offices and residences of people linked to PFI were raided across at least 14 locations in Bengaluru, Mangaluru, Sirsi, and Kalaburagi with protests against them prompting preventive detentions. Documents, computers, and phones were seized during the raids amid heavy police deployments.
NIA officials said a search operation began around 4am at the offices of PFI on Mangaluru’s Nellikai road, which was barricaded to block the movement of the people. “Local police have given perimeter security but NIA has paramilitary forces for security. …they searched for documents from PFI’s office bearers and seized some of them as well,” said a police officer.
Abubakkar Kulai, a functionary of an organisation linked to PFI, said NIA officials came to their office around 3.30am. “They have taken some documents like our rental agreements, papers regarding our activities and some photographs of our programmes. We are cooperating with them,” he said.
He said none of their leaders was taken into custody in Mangaluru. “When we asked them what was the raid about, they did not tell us anything but said they have the orders.” Kulai called the raids a conspiracy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and nothing more.
PFI workers held a protest in Mangaluru and promoted police to detain some of them. “…50-60 people gathered for the protest. …we deployed police and asked them not to carry out any protests. When they continued to hold protests… we made some preventive detentions…around 40 people…,” said N Shashi Kumar, Mangaluru Police commissioner.
In Assam, nine people, including PFI’s state unit chief Aminul Haque, were arrested during raids at Guwahati, Nagarbera, and Karimganj. Haque was arrested earlier in December 2019 for his alleged role in the anti-CAA protests.
NIA searched around 16 premises in Tamil Nadu linked to PFI office bearers in Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Kanyakumat, Cuddalore, Dindugal, Theni, and Thenkasi.
The PFI claims to have units in 22 states with intelligence agencies saying its growth is phenomenal. It was first headquartered in Kozhikode before shifting base to Delhi.
The PFI describes itself as a neo-social movement committed to empowering people belonging to minority communities, Dalits, and other weaker sections. It has a uniform and conducts drills in public places.
In 2013, the Kerala government banned the “freedom parade” that PFI conducts on Independence Day every year after the police found its cadres were carrying stars and emblems on their uniforms. On February 17 annually, it conducts unity marches in all district headquarters.
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