The Centre on Wednesday banned the Popular Front of India for five years under the stringent anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), accusing the Islamic outfit of having "links" with global terror groups such as the ISIS and trying to spread communal hatred in the country.
The PFI's eight associates -- 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 -- were also placed in the list of the organisations outlawed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, according to a gazette notification.
The ban for alleged terror activities comes after the National Investigating Agency, the Enforcement Directorate and various state police forces carried out raids in a massive pan-India crackdown on the PFI twice in the recent days.
A total of 106 leaders and activists of the PFI were arrested in 15 states on September 22 for allegedly supporting terror activities in the country. On September 27, more than 170 people allegedly linked with the PFI were detained or arrested in raids across seven states.
Following the ban, authorities initiated the process of sealing the offices of the PFI and freezing their bank accounts in 17 states where the organisation was functioning.
The Centre will also set up a tribunal within 30 days to adjudicate whether or not there is sufficient cause for declaring the PFI "unlawful association".
The PFI can also defend its case against the ban.
Officials in the know of developments alleged that the outfit had been indulging in "disturbing" communal and secular fabric of the country and was "posing a grave threat" to the national security by advancing its radical ideology and calling for establishment of political Islam in India besides allegedly carrying out targeted killings of Hindu activists.
The outfit, which was formed in 2006, has been on the radar of the security agencies since 2010 when a professor's hands were chopped off in Kerala where the PFI has strong pockets. Many of the accused convicted in the case were members of the outfit.
The Bharatiya Janata Party hailed the ban as "strong and timely" and accused the Congress of standing with anti-India forces, even as several opposition leaders called for similar action against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Senior BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said strict action has been taken against those "acting as proxies of anti-India forces" that were against democracy and part of a violent conspiracy.
The SDPI, the PFI's political wing which did not figure in the outlawed list, said the ban was a "challenge" to the Indian democracy and the rights guaranteed to the people of the country by its Constitution.
PFI's general secretary Abdul Sattar announced that the Kerala unit of the organisation stood disbanded following the Centre's decision to declare it illegal. Sattar was nabbed from Karunagappally in Kerala, hours after he posted on the Facebook page the decision of the state unit that "as law abiding citizens of the country, the organization accepts the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs."
Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad called the RSS a "Hindu extremist organisation" that deserved to be banned.
All India Congress Committee general secretary(communications) Jairam Ramesh said the Congress has always been and will continue to be against all forms and types of communalism - majority or minority makes no difference.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist, which is in power in Kerala, said it opposes the extremist views of the PFI, but does not support the way the government is tackling it by banning the outfit under the UAPA.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi said though he always opposed the PFI's approach, the ban on the radical outfit cannot be supported. "A draconian ban of this kind is dangerous as it is a ban on any Muslim who wishes to speak his mind."
The Kerala unit of the Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League accused the PFI of trying to create 'communal division' in the society, but alleged the RSS was also indulging in it and wanted the right-wing outfit also to be outlawed.
Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Assam--all ruled by the BJP or with an ally--welcomed the decision, saying PFI was posing a threat to the country's unity and integrity.
According to the officials monitoring the activities of the PFI and its members, against whom 1,400 cases were registered across India under anti-terror laws, the outfit has formed a secret 'Service Team', similar to the 'Hit Squads' whose main task was to provide security to senior PFI leaders and also kept track of Hindu leaders in their areas and plan action against them.
In a late Tuesday night notification, which was made public in early hours of Wednesday, the Union Home Ministry said some PFI founding members are leaders of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the PFI has linkages with Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh.
Both the JMB and the SIMI are proscribed organisations.
It said there had been many instances of international linkages of the PFI with global terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts have been working covertly to increase the radicalisation of one community by promoting a sense of insecurity in the country, which is substantiated by the fact that some PFI cadres have joined international terrorist organisations, the notification claimed.
The home ministry said Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat governments had also recommended a ban on PFI.
As reactions poured in from across the country, Professor TJ Joseph, whose hand was chopped off by the activists of PFI for alleged blasphemy 12 years ago, declined to respond to the ban, saying observing silence was better at times than always talking.
The ban is yet another surgical strike done by the Modi government, the All India Bar Association said.
The Muslim Students Organization of India (MSO), a Sufi student organisation, has described the five-year ban as "reasonable".
The home ministry claimed that PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts have been involved in violent terrorist activities with an intent to create a reign of terror in the country, thereby endangering the security and public order of the state.
The PFI, the notification alleged, is encouraging and trying to enforce a terror-based regressive regime, continue to propagate anti-national sentiments and radicalising a particular section of society to create disaffection against the country, aggravating activities which are detrimental to the integrity, security and sovereignty of the country.
The Centre, through another notification, empowered the state governments to take action against the groups affiliated with the PFI and the possible action against them could be seizure of places and arrest of their members.
It also said the PFI and its associates or affiliates or fronts have a 'hub and spoke' relationship.
The PFI acts as the hub and utilises the mass outreach and fund-raising capacity of its associates or affiliates or fronts to strengthen its capability for unlawful activities and these associates or affiliates or fronts function as "roots and capillaries through which it is fed and strengthened", the Centre said.
The notification also mentioned the names of several people who were alleged victims of the PFI's "brutal" violence and most of them belong to Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
It was also claimed that the office bearers and the cadre of PFI along with others are conspiring and raising funds from within India and abroad through banking channels, hawala and donations among others as part of a "well-crafted criminal conspiracy", and then transferring, layering and integrating these funds through multiple accounts to project them as legitimate and eventually using these for various criminal, unlawful and terrorist activities in India.