By: Arun Anand
Some comparisons are absurd. The comparison between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Popular Front of India (PFI) falls in this particular category. This comparison is mostly done intentionally to manipulate the narrative away from the real threats posed by the anti-national forces but sometimes the ill-informed people also fall in this trap. The margin of error has to be given to those who unintentionally fall prey to such propaganda.
The RSS, which was founded in 1925, is known as the world’s largest voluntary organisation that works in the socio-cultural sphere to build an egalitarian society based on the age-old tenet of ‘Vasudhev Kutumbakam’ (the whole world is one family). Its volunteers work for the welfare of the society and help in nation building. Their focus is to build bridges amongst different sections of the society and motivate them all to work for the welfare of the society at large. It fought in 1975 during the Emergency to protect the Indian democracy and is known to be on the forefront whenever the society needs a helping hand due to the onslaught of any major crisis or natural calamity. The biggest example in recent times was the COVID-19 pandemic where RSS volunteers led from the front to help the society.
On the other hand, Popular Front of India is a dubious organisation perpetuating an Islamist agenda. Various investigating agencies and police of several states have exposed their deeds.
The origin of PFI itself betrays its true colours. After the demolition of a disputed structure at Ayodhya in 1992, an organisation by the name of National Democratic Front (NDF) was created in Kerala. “In Public domain NDF portrayed itself as an organisation devoted to socio-economic reform work for Muslims, but its extremist and violent nature was exposed when some of its members were arrested for rioting and murdering eight Hindus on Marad beach in Kozhikode in 2003.” (Radicalisation in India, Abhinav Pandya, Pentagon Books, pp 62)
It is interesting to see that how a plethora of non-governmental organisations came together to help form the PFI that believes in political Islam. According to the official website of PFI, it has a presence in 23 states.
According to Pandya, “NDF’s activities were limited to Kerala. It was decided to create a nationwide organisation. In 2006, PFI was established by merging like-minded Karnataka Forum for Dignity and Manitha Neethi Pasarai (Tamil Nadu). Over the next three years, Goa Citizen’s Forum, Rajasthan’s Community for Social and Educational Society, West Bengal’s Nagrik Adhikar Suraksha Samiti, Manipur’s Lilong Social Forum and Andhra’s Association for Social Justice merged with PFI. However, it remained most active in Kerala. PFI’s other units are (1) All India Imam Council (Religious Scholars’ unit) and (2) Satya Sarini, an educational and charity organisation based in Malappuram, actively engaging in conversions.”
Another interesting aspect of PFI is its relationship with the banned outfit Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). According to Pandya, “A large number of PFI office bearers had strong links with SIMI, before it was banned in 2001.
PFI’s modus operandi
Soumya Awasthi, a Jawaharlal Nehru University-based scholar, came out with a research paper on PFI in 2020 where she discussed its modus operandi in detail. Awasthi says in this paper titled Popular Front of India: Understanding the Propaganda and Agenda, “Even though the organisation came into existence aiming for Muslim empowerment, the PFI’s modus-operandi has been to showcase the Muslim agenda as a side show. Instead they keep the issues of vulnerable societies (Women, labours, farmers, Dalits, Adivasi) at the forefront. This provides them with the cover of a charitable organisation working for the welfare of minorities and the weaker sections of the society. This is meant to fool the government — and the organisation has managed not to be banned yet.”
Awasthi further adds, “The PFI’s ultimate goal is to replace the democratic system of India with an Islamic State-styled government. The Popular Front of India (PFI)… calls India its enemy and asks for ‘total Muslim empowerment’…. The PFI runs projects like ‘School Chalo’ to encourage education for all up to the secondary level, as well as the ‘Sarva Siksha Gram’ and ‘Adopt a student’ campaigns. These campaigns and projects not only provide them legitimacy to function openly but also provide them cover over their actual missionary work. The PFI’s members believe that India is a democratic country. The doctrine is that slowly they (government of India) are reaching for our necks because of (political and social reasons). PFI members believe that if their rights are breached, then they will be left with no choice but to react — and their holy text provides for a jihad, which they will not be reluctant to utilise and justify their acts.”
“The writings of Syed Abu Ala Maududi, Allam Iqbal and Osama Bin Laden influence PFI members. They have maintained the image of a charitable organisation and worked for the ultimate goal establishing an Islamic state by converting and spreading fear through terror acts,” observed Awasthi.
According to Awasthi, “Cadres of the banned outfit SIMI are fast regrouping under the banner of the Popular Front of India (PFI). This outfit has expanded its tentacles to the north after carrying out the initial recruitment in South India. The spreading tentacles of the PFI and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of the PFI, came to light only when its members became influenced by the taqreer (speeches) of Zakir Naik. Interestingly, just days after the IRF was banned, the Kerala-based Islamic fundamentalist organisation PFI organised massive rallies in different parts of the country in support of Zakir Naik. Intelligence sources say there is electronic evidence of increasing interaction between members of these two groups, especially since the IRF ban.”
To gauge the role of PFI in anti-national activities, one can go through the official statement issued by the Directorate of Enforcement (ED), on 1 June 2022 where it categorically said that it has provisionally attached 23 bank accounts of PFI having collective balance of Rs 59,12,051 and 10 bank accounts of PFI’s front organisation Rehab India Foundation (RIF) having collective balance of Rs 9,50,030 in the ongoing money laundering investigation against PFI and its related organisations.
ED investigation revealed that huge amounts of money including cash from questionable sources have been received by PFI and RFI. An amount of more than Rs 60 crore has been deposited in the accounts of PFI which includes cash deposits of more than Rs 30 crore since 2009. Similarly, around Rs 58 crore have been deposited in the accounts of RIF since 2010.
Further, investigation by ED revealed that PFI, in active collusion with other associated accused persons, has indulged in laundering of proceeds of crime in terms of Section 3 of Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002.
Investigations by the ED also revealed that PFI was covertly mobilising funds through well-organised network in Gulf countries as part of criminal conspiracy and these proceeds of crime were secretly and clandestinely sent to India through underground and illegal channels and by way of foreign remittances into the bank accounts of sympathizers/office bearers / members and their relatives / associates in India and thereafter these funds were transferred to the bank accounts of PFI, RIF and other individuals or entities.
The ED statement said, “In this way, the proceeds of crime have been placed, layered & integrated and therefore projected as untainted money in the bank accounts of PFI as well as RIF. This has been done as a part of a larger criminal conspiracy of PFI and its related entities to raise funds within the country and abroad to carry out various unlawful activities which have resulted in the registration of numerous FIRs or complaints against them… and conviction of its members or office-bearers.”
What we have discussed about PFI here is just the tip of the iceberg. It is also under the scanner of National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the police departments of several states. There has been a persistent demand to ban PFI from several quarters which doesn’t sound unreasonable going by its past record.
In this context to compare a nationalist organisation like RSS with a dubious outfit like PFI is not only absurd but it is grossly unfair to the RSS which has served this nation selflessly for 97 years.