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‘Witch-hunt’: India outlaws leading Muslim political group, citing ‘terror links’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
India has banned the Popular Front of India (PFI) over "unlawful activities" for five years. (File Photo)

The Hindu nationalist government in India has declared the Popular Front of India (PFI), a political organization that represents Muslims in the country, as “unlawful”, banning it for five years.

In a statement on Wednesday, India’s home ministry said the PFI and its affiliates “have been found to be involved in serious offenses, including terrorism and its financing, targeted gruesome killings, disregarding the constitutional set up”.

It said the government has banned PFI and its affiliates including Rehab India Foundation, Campus Front of India, All India Imams Council, National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation, National Women’s Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation, and Rehab Foundation, Kerala.

The PFI, which calls itself a “social movement striving for total empowerment” on its website, was formed in November 2006 to counter the rise of Hindu-nationalist groups in the country.

Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rose to power in 2014, the incidents of violence, harassment, and persecution of minority Muslims have assumed alarming proportions in the Hindu-majority country.

Instead of dousing the flames of communalism, the Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of fanning those flames, pushing the world’s largest democracy toward a dark and uncertain future.

The party today rules both at the center in Delhi and in about half of India’s states. It has heavily relied on Hindu majoritarianism and political polarization to expand its base across the country.

The ban on PFI has been invoked under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which gives sweeping powers to the federal government to deal with activities deemed against the integrity and sovereignty of the country.  

The PFI has, however, rejected accusations of its involvement in violence and anti-national activities.

In a statement posted on Twitter on Tuesday, the organization denounced what it called “massive arrests” in the BJP-ruled states “in the name of preventive custody”.

“This is nothing but Prevention of d Right to democratic protests against d Central govt's witch-hunt targeting PFI is quite natural & expected under this autocratic system,” it said.

It came after police in India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by the BJP, said they arrested 57 persons for their links to the PFI on Tuesday because of "violent acts conducted by them and their rising anti-national activities across the country".

Earlier this month, India’s top counter-terrorist task force raided several locations in the states of Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh and detained members of the PFI, accusing them of organizing training camps to "commit terrorist acts" or “anti-national activities”.

Mohammed Tahir, a counsel for the PFI, was quoted as saying in media reports that the government had failed to present evidence to substantiate the claim of PFI’s funding “terror” activities in India, organizing riots in Indian cities, or attacking Hindu organizations and their leaders.

The Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), an affiliate of the PFI which has not been included in the ban, in a statement termed the ban on PFI a blow against democracy and human rights.

“Freedom of speech, protests, and organizations have been ruthlessly suppressed by the regime against the basic principles of the Indian constitution,” the SDPI said in a statement on Twitter.

“The regime is misusing the investigation agencies and laws to silence the opposition and to scare the people from expressing the voice of dissent. An undeclared emergency is clearly visible in the country.”

The growing tide of Hindu nationalism and toxic Islamophobia has dangerously manifested in India under the present ruling dispensation with a tsunami of hate speeches, attacks on Muslim organizations, desecration of religious places, and abuse of religious freedom.  

As per conservative estimates, around 80 percent of India’s Muslim population today comprises ‘Pasmanda’, a Persian word for those “left out”. These people lag behind on economic, social, and political parameters, with no voice, no representation, and no agency.

The crackdown on Muslim organizations comes as radical Hindu groups accused of crimes against the minority community have been functioning freely across the country, drawing anger and outrage.

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