'Muslims don't benefit from an exodus'
Chairman of the Popular Front of India E M Abdul Rahiman speaks to rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa about how some sections are desperately trying to tarnish the image of the PFI.
There have been reports of the group Popular Front of India being part of the panic message campaign that led to the exodus of Indians from north-east, a fact they have denied outright. However, this is not the first time the group has come into the spotlight for its radical activities.
The PFI is a confederation of Muslim organisations, which includes the National Development Front, Manitha Neethi Pasarai and Karnataka Forum for Dignity among other organisations from across India. The PFI which has nearly eight lakh members claims to champion the cause of the minority community and underprivileged groups in India.
While the PFI is headquartered in New Delhi, it has its strongest support base in Kerala. Many have accused the PFI of being extremely radical with the intent of creating a Muslim majority in Kerala at least.
PFI chairman E M Abdul Rahiman denies these allegations.
Your organisation's activities in Kerala are always in the news for the wrong reasons. Why do you say the PFI is being targeted?
The PFI is a nation-wide movement that fights for the empowerment of the weaker sections, including Muslims. We have a wide social alliance with other weaker sections as well. Despite having a strong democracy and a rule of law in India, there are certain sections that are intolerant towards the weaker sections and do not want them to have an equal footing with other people in the society.
Some hardcore Hindutva outfits, some in the administration, intelligence and also the police, and unfortunately the media, espouse the cause of these elements. This according to me is the only reason why we are being targeted. These elements have a control over a section of the media and ensure that a false propaganda is highlighted as a result of which things get blown out of proportion.
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Image: Passengers from south india arrive at Guwahati railway station. (Inset) Chairman of the Popular Front of India E M Abdul Rahiman
'Investigating agencies don't have the right to speculate'
The PFI was blamed for circulating panic messages with the help of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. What are your thoughts on it?
We have checked all the sites and we found that this news appeared in some media and subsequently was picked up by the rest. Many have reported it without checking the facts. They quote sources, but never a particular agency. This means the reporting is not specific. If the media has quoted a secret document then how was it leaked? I agree that any investigating agency has the right to investigate all angles, but none have the right to speculate.
But there can't be smoke without fire...
After the 13/7 Mumbai blasts, a section of the media said that the PFI was under the scanner. However, till date not a single member of the PFI has been called for questioning in connection with the case. There was also an incident in New Delhi where an Israeli diplomat was attacked and once again the PFI was dragged into it. It was said that the PFI was against the influence of Israelis in India and hence we could have been behind it. However, nothing cropped up during the investigation. Our worry is that there are some sections which are desperately trying to tarnish the image of the PFI.
What about the horrific incident in which the hands of a professor was chopped off in Kerala?
That was an unfortunate incident. The hands of the professor were chopped off because he hurt the sentiments of the Muslims. In this incident we did find that some local members of the PFI were involved. We immediately condemned the incident and took disciplinary action against these people.
Kerala is no stranger to such incidents and there are rival parties that indulge in similar activities, especially in northern Kerala. The people who are responsible for this incident should be brought to book and the matter should end there. However, the then Communist Party of India-Marxist-controlled government saw such incidents as an opportunity to attack the PFI. They had even announced that they would finish-off the PFI. Our houses and offices were raided and our state leaders were questioned. We were hounded.
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'Meaningless to say we share a bond with SIMI'
If you have taken action and condemned such a meaningless incident then why are you still hounded?
As I said, some have a vendetta against us. We recently held a social justice conference. In the newspapers it was reported, "The organisation which chopped the hands of a professor is holding a social justice conference." I would like to know why when L K Advani held his yatra the papers did not write, "the accused in the Babri Masjid case is holding a rally?" We are only striving to empower the underprivileged and are questioning injustices.
The PFI is accused of sharing a bond with the banned Students Islamic Movement of India. What are your thoughts?
SIMI was banned in 2001 after 9/11 and the PFI was started in 1993. We then expanded to Karnataka and also Tamil Nadu. It is meaningless to say that we share a bond with SIMI. The ideology of the SIMI was against the Indian system where as the PFI wants to ensure that a Muslim makes his way into the secular space in India. Here lies the basic difference in ideology between the PFI and the SIMI.
Two months ago we submitted a memorandum to the home ministry asking them to verify facts before linking us to SIMI. As per our records we have many members and not even one percent belongs to the SIMI. Yes, we do have some members who were with the SIMI but that was not at the time of the ban. There is no rule saying those members should have sat in isolation. That hardly can even be a justification to say we are associated with SIMI.
Your thoughts on Abdul Nasar Madani?
He is the president of a political party that is registered with the Election Commission of India. He was once booked in the Coimbatore blasts and after spending nine years in jail he was acquitted. Today he is in jail for the Bangalore blasts. We find that Madani raised his voice for the rights of the Muslims and the Dalits and hence was targeted.
I would not want to comment on the case against him; the court should decide on that. Although I would like to point out that the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka had a vendetta against him. I would like to ask, why do hardcore Hindutva leaders from the Ram Sene walk around free?
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Image: Abdul Nasser Madani
Photographs: Rediff archives
'Kerala has no communal or radical feelings'
Does the PFI have a political ambition?
There is politics, but we have no political ambition. We are for total empowerment of the underprivileged only. We want to ensure that they get their due. The PFI has decided not to form a political party. However, we will support a political party that subscribes to our views. During our convention in 2009 many delegates attended and we told them that instead of continuing as pawns in mainstream political parties, they should come and empower themselves. After this conference many smaller political outfits were formed. Although we are not part of those parties, we support them.
There are organisations such as the Karnataka Forum for Dignity and the Manitha Neethi Pasarai that you are associated it. They too have been termed radical in their approach.
After the formation of the National Development Front in Kerala, organisations with similar objectives from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu came to us. In 2006 there was a liaison between these organisations and it was decided to form a confederation. All these groups were merged and it became the PFI. During our conference in 2009, many more groups from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Manipur came together and merged into the PFI.
In the aftermath of the Assam violence are Indians from the north-east safe in the states that you are part of?
Yes, they are very safe. I can see right now as we speak that there are people from the north-east doing their work with no fear. I would like to however point out that the rehabilitation of all people is needed and at any cost the issue should not be diverted. We must find out who benefits from such an exodus. I can say with conviction that the Muslim does not.
There are horror stories emanating out of Kerala every now and then. Is it still 'God's own country'?
I request you to come down to Kerala and stay here for a couple of days and enjoy the communal harmony here. Kerala has no communal or radical feelings whatsoever. It is a role model state.
Photographs: Rediff archives