Popular Front of India | Faith and politics 

Behind the facade of a “neosocial movement,” the outfit is made up of ultra-religious, radical Muslim men who fiercely defend what they see as tenets of their faith

Behind the facade of a “neosocial movement,” the outfit is made up of ultra-religious, radical Muslim men who fiercely defend what they see as tenets of their faith

On Friday, as the Popular Front of India (PFI) watched a violence-stricken Flash Hartal in Kerala to protest against the nationwide crackdown on over 100 of its top leaders by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) along with the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to protest. and to the local police the day before, the message they wanted to convey was loud and clear.

“Take the streets face to face without the NIA and the ED if you have the courage,” a speaker at a PFI march in Ernakulam on Hartal Day challenged the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to loud cheers.

Such slogans against the Hindutva forces and their supposed non-Muslim accomplices are typical of the PFI. Video footage of an underage boy raising communally charged slogans as he sat on a man’s shoulders at a Save the Republic rally organized by PFI in Alappuzha district of Kerala in May this year had raised hackles in the court and the general public .

But it is this belligerent assertion and commitment to “defend” the community physically, legally, morally and ideologically that has helped the PFI expand its presence to some 26 Indian states, with significant influence in at least 15 of them.

The PFI was formed in 2006 when the National Development Front (NDF) was formed a year after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Kerala’s Kozhikode, with some helmsmen from the now-banned Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) on its top council, merged with the Karnataka Forum for Dignity, which was gaining ground among Muslim youth on the Karnataka coast, and the Manitha Neethi Pasarai in Tamil Nadu.

Constructed behind the facade of a “neosocial movement” seeking social and economic justice and political representation for Muslims, Dalits and tribals, the PFI is made up of ultra-religious, radical Muslim men who stand fiercely for what they see as the tenets of their faith. The group has been accused more than once of using violence against what it perceives as blasphemy – the most notorious being the 2010 brutal attack on college lecturer TJ Joseph over a questionnaire he prepared.

religious identity

“For the PFI, in contrast to the conventional Muslim parties, religion and religious identity represent a blueprint for socio-political action – and must be constantly protected from external threats,” R. Santhosh and Dayal Paleri of IIT-Madras write in an article on “Crisis of Secularism and Changing Contours of Minority Politics in India: Lessons from the Analysis of a Muslim Political Organization,” published last year in Asian Survey. They argue that this form of religious identity, although it arose as a defense against Hindu nationalism, often adheres to mindsets almost similar to those of the Hindu right and is driven by belief in the political prospects of a homogenized religious identity.

While establishing the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) in 2009 as its political arm open to all citizens, the thrust has always been to mobilize the community politically and socially for the rights and duties of Muslims to stand up against others through the Hindutva to protect groups, a sort of “defensive ethnicization,” as Santhosh and Paleri put it.

While this model drew criticism from conventional Muslim political parties such as the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), it resonated with many Muslim youth for its assertiveness; – urging that minorities be educated on their legal and constitutional rights and even supported, as in the case of Hadiya, in which a Hindu girl converted to Islam and married a Muslim youth; and his ongoing civil rights campaigns, brandishing a narrative of victimhood and balancing it with episodes of Islamophobia from around the world.

Observers say that the PFI’s women’s wing, the National Women’s Front, was active in appropriating the Citizenship Act (CAA) protests and its student wing, the Campus Front of India, was in the dock for political violence and murder.

Central authorities such as the ED have accused the PFI of using its feeder organizations, such as the Rehab India Foundation, which works in many states in social service and disaster relief, as a channel for money laundering.

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