Each and every allegation against the PFI is grave and needs to be thoroughly investigated, but whether these alleged offences warrant a ban on the outfit is a fundamental political question.

A police officer talking to a man in front of a Popular Front of India (PFI) office
news Opinion Monday, October 17, 2022 - 12:45

Much has been written about the ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI). Although most of the media hailed this act as another ‚ÄėMaster Stroke' by the Prime Minister towards ensuring the security of India, a few media outlets have highlighted the need for transparency in proving the state's case against PFI. Some saner editorials have even cautioned the state against weaponizing the ban to hound innocent Muslims accusing them of association with PFI. Only a few of them were courageous enough to question why the same yardstick is not applied to Hindutva extremism. The People‚Äôs Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has demanded the withdrawal of the ban and the repeal of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, since banning a political ideology is considered undemocratic and arresting persons without even notifying the local police is against federalism.

Nevertheless, the understanding of the PFI cultivated by the Sangh Parivar and the Modi government and its media ecosystem, supplemented with selective leaks by the intelligence agencies, has been successful in making the responses broadly cautious, barring a few exceptions. Hence, most of the responses have moderated their inquiry within the confines of the need for the ban to ensure the unity and integrity of the nation. However, the reasons provided by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for the ban and its discriminatory application has raised several fundamental questions pertaining to the unity of the country and its existence as a secular democratic republic.

The MHA has provided five reasons for the ban: 1. The PFI and its associates have been pursuing a secret agenda to radicalise a particular section of the society. 2. They are working towards undermining the concept of democracy and show disrespect towards the constitutional authority and constitutional setup of the country. 3. Involvement in violent activities. 4. Reports of links with foreign terrorist organisations. 5. It works with the purported goal of making India an ‚ÄúIslamic State‚ÄĚ by 2047 by undermining the Indian constitution and democracy.

Each and every allegation made above is grave and needs to be thoroughly investigated, and those proved guilty should be severely punished case-by-case under available IPC sections. But whether these alleged offences warrant an omnibus ban of PFI, is not just a question of administrative discretion but a fundamental political question.

More so when a completely different set of laws and legal principles are applied to similar offences committed by Hindutva affiliates. When the custodians of law legitimise or take a milder look at similar offences by implied national interests, the state is actually ‚Äėnationalising‚Äô Hindutva terrorism, and branding every Muslim reaction as terrorism. In fact, the response of the state and the belligerent Hindutva organisations after the ban of PFI proves this dangerous development.

Take, for example, the stated offence of radicalisation of a section of society by the PFI. While any awareness campaign by Muslims about their rights and their assertion when their rights are violated, is considered as radicalisation of Muslims, (one can give many examples of how muslims were stigmatised as terrorist when they fought for their basic rights,isnt it?) the speech made by Hindu Jagarana Vedike leaders on the occasion of ‚ÄúDurga Doud‚ÄĚ in Udupi recently, which called for collection of arms and its use against Muslims in the coming years, is not even considered as a call for communal disturbance.

This is the mindset of even the judiciary, whose actions triggered a series of arrests of innocent Muslims on terror charges in Karnataka in 2008. During the hearing of a case pertaining to possible theft of a motorcycle in Honnali of Davanagere district of Karnataka, the accused Raziuddin Nasir and Asadullah Akhtar complained about the harassment in police custody and asserted their human rights while being in custody. The magistrate, however, ignored this assertion and instead ordered a detailed investigation looking into possible terrorist connections.

The police under the BJP government, faithfully followed the order and the government itself gave the case to the Criminal Investigation Department. This lead to further arrest of around 17 Muslim medical students and engineers with charges of connections to the banned SIMI. But after seven years, all 17 were acquitted by a trial court in Hubli.

The live bombs confiscated from the offices of the RSS and its affiliates in Nanded, Tenkasi or Pune are not considered as acts of terror but just a crime to be punished under the Arms Act. 

The statement made on affidavit by an ex RSS activist, Yashvant Rao Shindhe, provides a big list of extremist activities that RSS affiliates were involved in during the period he was active in the RSS. Not even an FIR has been registered based on that affidavit till date, leave alone an investigation against the Hindutva affiliates.

When a plea was made to prosecute Anurag Thakur, now a Union Minister, for giving a call to kill Muslim women protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Delhi, by raising slogans like ‚ÄúDesh Ki Gaddaron Ko, Goli Maro Salonko‚ÄĚ (Shoot the anti-nationals), the court considered the slogans as harmless and not ill-intentioned because the accused person was laughing when he raised that slogan.

The Hindu Mahasabha, Hindu Jagaran Vedike, Bajarang Dal, Sanatan Sanstha, Hindu Jana Jagriti Vedike and scores of other Hindutva organisations, having direct or indirect links with the RSS and BJP, have openly declared their disapproval of the Indian Constitution and democracy. Neither the government nor the judiciary considers this as an affront to the Indian republic.

Many a time, elected BJP MLAs take part in open meetings organised by the Hindutva extremists like Swami Narasinganand or Suresh Chavanke of Sudarshan TV, who regularly give calls for the genocide of Muslims. In one of the replies on this to the Supreme Court, the Uttarakhand government officially said on affidavit that the state did not find any offence or illegality in such statements. Narasinganand and his associates, who openly called for the genocide of Muslims were never been booked under terror charges or even under stringent IPC sections.

The mainstream media, the judiciary and the society at large have made peace with this as being normal.

The Sanatan Sanstha, whose activists have been accused in the assassination of Gauri Lankesh, Kalburgi, Dabholkar and Pansare, prescribe ‚ÄúThe Kshatra Dharma Sadhana‚ÄĚ as its manifesto, which members should follow. The book itself preaches killing of 'durjan' (bad people) as a necessary divine act of establishing Hindu Rashtra. Neither the book is banned nor the organisation.

Not only that, this year in the month of May, Sanatan Sanstha hosted a seven-day convention openly in its head office at Ponda, Goa, for devising strategies to make India a Hindu Rashtra by 2025. Neither the mainstream press, nor the police which gave full-time protection to the venue, found this militant Hindu congregation as violative of the Indian Constitution and democracy and an act of conspiracy to overthrow secular democratic India and hence a terrorist assembly.

All this points towards a subtle public and state affirmation of Hindutva terrorism as a legitimate nationalist act. Indians who are worried about PFI’s violence and alleged anti-national activities should be more concerned about this unstated nationalisation of Hindutva terrorism, which indirectly heralds the evolution of a defacto Hindu state into a dejure Hindu state.

(The author is an activist and freelance journalist. Views expressed are author’s own)

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