Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has banned a prominent Muslim group and its affiliates for five years, accusing it of links to terrorist organizations, in a move likely to foment the country’s growing communal tensions.
The banning of the Indian Popular Front on Wednesday follows the arrests in recent days of more than 200 of its members and searches of the homes and offices of top leaders.
India’s Home Ministry said the PFI was involved in “serious offences, including terrorism and its financing, gruesome targeted killings, in defiance of the country’s constitution”. [and] disturbance of public order”.
The ban has extended to eight other groups that work on behalf of the minority Muslim population, which accounts for around 200 million out of India’s nearly 1.4 billion population. These organizations included Rehab India Foundation, Campus Front of India, All India Imams Council, National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations and National Women’s Front.
The Indian government said the ban on PFI and its affiliates was “necessary to curb the nefarious activities of the organization”.
Islam is the second largest religion in Hindu-majority India. The PFI was founded in 2006 as a counterweight to Hindu nationalist groups, which have gained ascendancy in national politics since Modi’s election in 2014.
The banned Muslim organization is mainly active in southern India, but has an extensive network in several states, including the north of the country and the capital, New Delhi.
A terrorism expert said that while the PFI was “preaching hate” and some members had engaged in violence, he was waiting to see what evidence the state would provide to justify the arrests and the blanket ban.
“We have nothing in our databases to suggest this is a major terrorist organization,” said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management and the South Asia Terrorist Portal in New Delhi. . “He engaged in radical, even violent activities, but this is what you call in our context communal murder.”
Sahni added, “Terrorism would require a random attack, where the target is a larger population or the state, not an individual.”
Modi, who won re-election in 2019, and his ruling Bharatiya Janata party have been accused of promoting a Hindu nationalist identity and tacitly empowering extremist groups at the expense of the Muslim community. That year, the government stripped Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority region, of constitutionally protected autonomy.
Some members of the PFI have committed murder and violent crimes, including cutting off a teacher’s hand in the southern state of Kerala in 2010 after he was accused of blasphemy.
“I have no lost love for PFI,” said Ghazala Wahab, author of Born Muslim: Some Truths About Islam in India. “My only problem is that whenever there is a Muslim organization it is not considered a matter of public order – everything is labeled as terrorism.”
The Indian government has accused the PFI of links to banned Islamist groups, including the Islamic Student Movement of India, the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen of Bangladesh and Isis.
Indian authorities banned the group under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a 1967 law that gives the government special powers to act on threats to the integrity and sovereignty of the state.
Additional reporting by Jyotsna Singh