Following the unfolding of the alleged plot to attack BJP MP Tejasvi Surya and Yuva Brigade founder and BJP supporter Chakravarthy Sulibele, the Karnataka government is now mulling a ban on Popular Front of India (PFI) and its political wing Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).
The Bengaluru Police had last week arrested six people, all alleged associates of SDPI, for the attack on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activist Varun Bhoopalam during a pro-Citizenship Amendment Act rally in the city on December 22, 2019. Surya and Sulibele were at the rally.
Bengaluru Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao did not explicitly name Surya and Sulibele as targets, but said the group had targeted to kill leaders who were speaking at the rally.
The accused were arrested after Sulibele alleged that someone in the rally threw stones at him and created a tense atmosphere.
Both PFI and SDPI have come under scanner of the Home Ministry for alleged anti-social and anti-national activities, ever since the groups were formed in 2006-07. On their official website, PFI claims to be a cadre-based social movement that aims to uplift the marginalised and backward sections of the society.
PFI was formed by the merger of Islamic organisations such as the National Development Front, Karnataka Forum for Dignity and Manitha Neethi Pasarai of Tamil Nadu. The organisation also brought several socio-political organisations working in different states under its umbrella. Over the past five years, the groups spread their network in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The police crackdown on PFI and SDPI intensified after the BJP came to power in Karnataka last year. Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa has accused the Congress of shielding these groups.
The National Investigative Agency (NIA) which was probing the 2016 killing of RSS worker Rudresh had charged five members of the group and called it a “clear act of terrorism”. Soon after, the RSS had sought to ban these outfits.
The BJP government in Karnataka has asked the Centre to ban these two groups at least twice in the last six months, once after Congress leader Tanveer Sait was stabbed with a sharp knife allegedly by a SDPI activist last November and again after the violent CAA-protests in Mangaluru, during which the police blamed the two groups for inciting violence.
Politics over PFI, SDPI
Soon after the police revealed the details of those arrested and the plot to target BJP leaders, Surya alleged that these organisations had spread their wings and gotten stronger in Karnataka, particularly in Bangalore, because the previous Siddaramaiah government dropped charges against them.
In 2015, the Siddaramaiah cabinet withdrew cases relating to communal violence in Mysuru (2009), Shivamogga (2010) in which members of the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) and PFI were accused. These cases were lodged under the previous Yediyurappa government regime.
“Most of those who were charge sheeted were only participating in protests. They had no role in the violence nor were they part of the mob. On case-to-case basis, the government decided to drop charges against PFI members after careful examination,” Siddaramaiah had said while dropping charges.
However, Yediyurappa had made a quick retort asking whether Siddaramaiah was tacitly supporting those who attacked Sait (in Mysuru) by protecting goondas and murderers and withdrawing cases against them.
Speaking to The Federal, SDPI state president Elyas Mohammed said the BJP and RSS had an open and vicious agenda to falsely implicate their members and seek a ban on their organisation as they are vocal about the religious Hindu nation agenda of the BJP.
“By targeting us, they achieve three things mainly — divert the attention of people from core issues, make Hindus believe they are under threat and that the perpetrators are Muslims and make RSS youth leaders like Suyra and Sulibele heroes,” Mohammed says.
“For every attack in the state, PFI and SDPI becomes an easy target,” said Mohammed, claiming that the arrested do not belong their party and they had no links with the organisation.
‘Ban in other states’
Police investigations revealed that PFI members were involved in the gory incident where a Malayalam professor’s right arm was chopped for his inflammatory remark on Prophet Mohammed in 2010. About 13 people, including those connected to PFI, were found guilty by the NIA special court in 2015. Ever since, the organisation has come under severe criticism for its extreme views.
In 2018, the Jharkhand government banned activities of PFI and SDPI in the state. Notably, the ban came after the PFI and SDPI members had launched a legal fight against the perpetrators of lynching cases by mob vigilantes linked to the RSS and BJP.
The ban was however revoked by the Jharkhand high court for not providing valid reasons and highlighted the lapse in procedures.
Again, the state banned the groups ahead of the general elections last year. The matter is pending before the court.
More recently, the Uttar Pradesh government which cracked down on PFI and arrested 25 members belonging to the group for their involvement in the anti-CAA protests, sent a report to the Home Ministry seeking a ban on these two outfits.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath accused them of “masterminding and instigating violence” during the recent protests.