Abdul Sattar, Kerala state general secretary of the Popular Front of India (PFI), was arrested on Wednesday, 28 September, and handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), hours after he announced the disbanding of the organisation, following a ban on it by the central government.
Sattar, earlier on Wednesday, had announced that the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a ban on the PFI, therefore, "as law-abiding citizens of our great country, the organisation accepts the decision."
"All PFI members and the public are informed that the Popular Front of India (PFI) has been dissolved. MHA has issued a notification banning the PFI. As law-abiding citizens of our great country, the organisation accepts the decision," Sattar wrote in a Facebook post.
After two rounds of nationwide raids in a multi-agency operation led by the NIA, the Union government on Wednesday banned the PFI, and all its associates and affiliates, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for a period of five years.
After the announcement, security has been tightened around the PFI office in Delhi's Shaheen Bagh area. The PFI hoarding at its Navi Mumbai office was also removed by authorities amid tightened police security.
As per the order by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), "The Central Government hereby declares the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its associates or affiliates or fronts including Rehab India Foundation (RIF), Campus Front of India (CFI), All India Imams Council (AIIC), National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation (NCHRO), National Women's Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation and Rehab Foundation Kerala as an "unlawful association."
The ban comes shortly after the NIA, in a joint operation with other central agencies, raided PFI's offices and members' residences across the country for allegedly supporting terror activities on 22 September and on 27 September.
At least 250 people linked to the PFI have been taken into custody.
‘PFI Pursuing a Secret Agenda To Radicalise a Section of Society’: MHA
The MHA notification said that the PFI and its associates or affiliates have been indulging in "unlawful activities" which are "prejudicial to the integrity, sovereignty, and security of the country," and that they can potentially disturb communal harmony. The notification also mentioned PFI's linkages with the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMD), and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"PFI and its associates, or affiliates, or fronts operate openly as 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 and show sheer disrespect towards the constitutional authority and constitutional set up of the country," the notification further added.
‘Undeclared Emergency in the Country’: SDPI
Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which is regarded as the political wing of the PFI, released a statement rejecting the ban.
The statement said that the ban is a "challenge to Indian democracy" and constitutional rights.
"Those who are vocal against the BJP's policies are being threatened with raids and arrests," SDPI national president MK Faisy said in the statement.
He added that the BJP government is "crushing freedom of expression, people's protests and organisations."
"As the BJP government crushes people's dissent by misusing central agencies, promulgating new laws and silencing the opposition, it is clear that there is an undeclared emergency in the country," the statement further read.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath took to Twitter to welcome the ban on PFI.
"This is 'New India', where terrorists, criminals and organisations and individuals who pose a threat to the unity, integrity and security of the nation are not acceptable," he tweeted in Hindi.
Welcoming the ban on PFI, Bhartiya Janata Party national general secretary Arun Singh told news agency ANI, "Terrorist incidents (by PFI) occurred in many states, disintegrating the nation & spreading violence. So we welcome this step."
Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, "This notification also gives states some powers. Maharashtra will take action too," referring to the MHA notification banning PFI.
In a statement released by Jairam Ramesh, the Congress General Secretary in-charge Communications, he said, "Congress has always been and will continue to be against ALL forms and types of communalism – majority, minority makes no difference."
He further added that the Congress party's policy has always been to "fight uncompromisingly" ideologies and institutions that "abuse religion for polarising our society, that misuse religion to spread prejudice, hate, bigotry and violence."
He said that it is their priority to "preserve, protect and celebrate the secular and composite construct of our society and nationhood."
"We welcome PFI ban if reasonable," said Indian Union Muslim League MLA MK Muneer.
However, he further said that there was a need to fight against the RSS in a secular way as well.
"Ban may not solve all problems. Earlier SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) was banned, but NDF (National Development Front), PFI emerged later," he told ANI.
Rejecting the ban, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said, "While I have always opposed PFI's approach and supported democratic approach, this ban on PFI 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," he said in a series of tweets.
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that banning the PFI was a "long-time demand by all political parties, including the Opposition like CPI, CPM & Congress."
He said that the PFI was involved in violence and anti-national activities.
"Some of the important office bearers went across border and had their own training," Bommai told ANI as he supported the government's decision.
"This is a message to all anti-national groups. I urge people not to associate with such organisations,"Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai
Karnataka Congress leader Siddaramaiah said, "We don't object to action against anybody who disturbs peace or is against law."
He added that "RSS & others are also disturbing peace in the same way" and that action must be taken against those organisations as well.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma joined the group of people welcoming the move and said, "Government is firm in its resolve to ensure that anyone with a diabolical, divisive or disruptive design against India shall be dealt with iron fist."
'Demand RSS to Also Get Banned': Congress MP
Reacting to the ban, Congress MP and Lok Sabha Chief Whip Kodikunnil Suresh said, "We demand for RSS also to get banned. PFI ban is not a remedy, RSS is also spreading Hindu communalism throughout the country. Both RSS and PFI are equal, so government should ban both. Why only PFI?"
'Largest-Ever' Probe Led by NIA
In a multi-agency probe led by NIA, the first round of raids was carried out on PFI offices and members' residences across 15 states on Thursday, 22 September, for allegedly supporting terror activities.
The Enforcement Directorate was among the central agencies involved in the raids that took place in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and Rajasthan.
106 leaders and functionaries of PFI were arrested across 15 states for allegedly supporting terror activities.
In the second round of raids carried out on Tuesday, 27 September, authorities detained and arrested PFI workers in at least six states, including Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat. More than 170 people who were allegedly linked with the PFI were detained or arrested.