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PFI ban: What is Popular Front of India and why has India outlawed it?

The Indian government has banned the Popular Front of India (PFI) – a controversial Muslim group – for five years for allegedly having links with terror groups.

The ban, announced on Wednesday morning, comes amid a crackdown on the organisation – over the past week, authorities have twice raided its offices across several states and arrested many of its leaders.

The PFI, which denies the allegations against it, has held nationwide protests against the raids in recent days.

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About the ban

The government says it has banned the PFI and its associate groups for allegedly undertaking “unlawful activities” which are “prejudicial to the integrity, sovereignty and security of the country”.

It has cited the group’s alleged links with banned Islamist groups – the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi) and the Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) – as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“The PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts operate openly as a socio-economic, educational and political organisation but, they have been pursuing a secret agenda to radicalise a particular section of the society working towards undermining the concept of democracy,” the federal home ministry said in a statement.

Reports say that more than 250 people linked to the group have been arrested during raids held on 22 September and 27 September.

The searches were carried out by India’s top anti-terror agency, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which fights financial crimes.

The NIA said that during the searches, it seized “incriminating documents, cash, sharp-edged weapons and a large number of digital devices”.

In a statement issued after the first raid, the Popular Front of India had described the action against it as “witch hunting” and accused the NIA of making baseless claims to create “an atmosphere of terror” .

What is PFI?

Formed in 2006, the PFI describes itself “as a non-governmental social organisation whose stated objective is to work for the poor and disadvantaged people in the country and to oppose oppression and exploitation”.

The PFI came into existence after the National Development Front (NDF) – a controversial organisation established in Kerala a few years after the Babri mosque was demolished in 1992 – merged with two other organisations from the south. Over the next few years, it developed a broader base as more organisations across India merged with it.

At present, the PFI, which has a strong presence in Kerala and Karnataka, is active in more than 20 Indian states and says its cadre strength is in the “hundreds of thousands”.

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