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Inciting Violence against CAA – Did the PFI Try to Create an Atmosphere of Intimidation Across India?

Delhi Police

As the investigations on the Delhi Violence has been progressing rapidly, arrests have been made on a large scale by the Delhi Police based on thorough scientific investigation. However, right from the anti-CAA protests in December 2019, as the Home Minister of India Mr. Amit Shah had pointed out, right up to the aftermath of the riots in February 2020, the name of one organization – Popular Front of India (PFI) – has repeatedly surfaced in various ways. In this article, we will put out the manner in which PFI and its affiliate organizations have engaged in falsehoods, spread myths about CAA, and have funded protests that eventually took violent turns, including the north-east Delhi riots.

In this piece, we take a brief look at the role of PFI in virulent anti-CAA protests between December 2019 and February 2020, and examine how an environment of intimidation was created by the organization using violence and murder tactics.

Initiating the anti-CAA Protests and PFI’s Presence in Shaheen Bagh

From the very inception of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, PFI had been aggressively opposed to the move to grant citizenship to the persecuted non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who escaped persecution and entered India before December 2014. As per the handbill on the issue as seen on the website of PFI,

“Muslims are left out. The government claims that people of these six faiths have faced persecution in these three Islamic countries, Muslims haven’t. The CAA is not about people facing persecution, as migrants from other countries — such as Tamils from Sri Lanka or Rohingyan Muslims from Myanmar are not eligible to apply for citizenship under this act…” 

With a total disregard, the pamphlet claims that Muslims in India are now second-class citizens.

It was from 15 December 2019 that the sit-in protest at Shaheen Bagh started, led by Muslim women. Interestingly, the PFI’s head office is located right next to the sit-in site, as per the address on the handbill. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the media reported on 6 February 2020, quoting officials of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that PFI was funding the anti-CAA protest at Shaheen Bagh. Further, as we had reported back then, PFI leaders had been in regular touch with several Congress and AAP leaders.

Links of PFI With Anti-CAA Violence in North India

This was not the only link of PFI to anti-CAA protests. Earlier, the ED had found a link between violent protests in Uttar Pradesh and PFI. As reported by us, statements had been recorded by the ED of at least six members associated with the PFI and the Rehab India Foundation members in connection with cases involving the funding of anti-CAA protests. Further, none of the six persons, grilled for several hours, were able to explain the transactions that took place during the violent protests.

SDPI State President for Madhya Pradesh Irfan ul Haque Ansari was also arrested by the Madhya Pradesh Police for inciting violence in Jabalpur anti-CAA protests that happened in December 2019. Curfew had to be imposed in some areas of Jabalpur city between 20-22 December 2019 after violence during protests against the CAA, with protesters pelting stones, clashing with police and indulging in destruction of property.

Fanning Protests, Perpetrating Violence in South India via anti-CAA protests

The PFI and its political affiliate the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) have been coordinating protests extensively across South India, with many a controversial statement being made from the platforms. In one example, in a speech delivered during an anti-CAA protest in early February 2020, an SDPI leader had spread fake news among the audience about the UP police shooting dead a one-year old baby.

Karnataka saw the violent face of the anti-CAA protestors, when the case of Varun Bopala’s murder surfaced in December 2019. The Police arrested six SDPI activists for the attempted murder of Bopala, who was coming back from attending a pro-CAA rally. However, the real targets were Bengaluru South Member of Parliament (MP) Tejaswi Surya and prominent social activist Chakravarthy Sulibele, both of whom were attending the rally. The arrested had reportedly pelted stones to scatter the crowd during the event in order to carry out their murder plot but failed in that attempt. Later when they saw Varun leaving the crowd, they followed him and assaulted him. They later fled the spot on their motor bikes. Even in Mangaluru, violent protests had been witnessed in December 2019, with massive damage to property was reported. The police had allegedly identified the role of the PFI in these protests.

Kerala had also witnessed violent Islamist protests coordinated by PFI and SDPI. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had on the floor of the state assembly had alleged that the anti-CAA protests in the state had taken an ugly violent turn because some vested interests have penetrated in the anti CAA demonstrations. He blamed SDPI, PFI’s political wing. It is ironic, since in 2018 Vijayan had upon being asked about recommending a ban on PFI, categorically denied the consideration, and had instead argued that it was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that needed to be banned.

Links with the Violence in Delhi?

Subsequent to the Delhi riots, the Delhi Police arrested PFI’s Delhi unit president Parvez Ahmed and its secretary Mohammad Illiyas on 12 March 2020 for allegedly funding the riots and fanning violence across Delhi during anti-CAA protests. The Police had also earlier arrested Danish Khan, a secretary of the PFI.

Further, The Special Cell claimed to have clinching evidence about PFI spreading fake propaganda and fanning violence during the anti-CAA protests. One PFI member arrested earlier, Danish, handled the outfit’s intelligence wing and was spotted at all major protests in the city, and his interrogation revealed the PFI’s information warfare tactics, a police official told the Times of India.

It must be remembered that it all began with an anti-CAA sit in attempt at Jaffrabad on 22 February 2020 without police permission. Occupation of the roads, forced closure of metro station entry-exit and the consequent attempt to set up a podium to create another permanent sit-in like Shaheen Bagh was attempted by the protestors, led by Muslim women.

Given the serious charges against the organization, it is important to note that the investigative agencies have always kept the organization under the scanner. The organization first shot to notoriety with the chopping of Professor P T Joseph’s hand in Kerala for blasphemy. Since then, members of the organization were also convicted for running terror training camps in Kerala. In recent times, the organization has also been under the radar of investigative agencies for its alleged links with the Islamic terror group ISIS, with several people linked to the organization directly or indirectly being arrested.