CPI (M) has even been accused of closing its eyes towards the activities of the PFI but things took a dramatic turn after the murder of Abhimanyu

The politics of opportunity CPIMs long history with PFI
news Politics Friday, July 20, 2018 - 15:54

In February, when news came that Kerala had asked for a ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI), Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the Director General of Police Loknath Behera were quick to deny the report.

“It is not the Kerala government’s policy to ban any communal or terrorist outfit. If any outfit that creates riots in India and divides society on communal lines needs to be banned, then it should be the RSS first. Such organisations cannot be countered with a ban and this has been proved by our experience in the past,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said.

The CM's statement did not come as a surprise for political critics in the state, since the CPI (M)’s lenient attitude towards the PFI and its political outfit, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) has been an open secret. CPI (M) has even been accused of closing its eyes or even quietly supporting the radical activities of the PFI and its allied outfits for many years.

However, things took a dramatic turn after the murder of Abhimanyu, leader of the CPI (M) students’ wing Students Federation of India (SFI) on July 1. The murder of the 20-year-old youth inside the campus by Campus Front workers – the students’ wing of the PFI, came as a body blow to the CPI(M). Provoked by this, the CPI (M)-led government was spurred into action.

Read: 'He was stabbed in the heart’: Maharaja’s students recall murder of SFI activist

The prime accused, who is the president of the Campus Front of India at Maharaja’s College, was arrested.

In a massive crackdown, nearly 600 SDPI activists have been taken into custody and questioned about Abhimanyu’s murder – a visible gesture of the CPI (M)’s changed stand that it won't tolerate the PFI anymore as one of its trusted comrades.

Of this, two people detained by the police – Riyas and Niyas – were earlier arrested in the Professor TJ Joseph hand -chopping case. The incident took place in 2010, where PFI members cut off the professor’s hand as they believed that he set a question paper that allegedly insulted Prophet Muhammad.

After Abhimanyu’s murder, the CPI (M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan even said that SDPI is an Indian avatar of the ISIS, and that people should reject and isolate them. So why did the CPI (M) extend the hand of friendship to the PFI and SDPI once?

Veteran journalist, political critic and social activist BRP Bhaskar says, “There has always been an electoral angle to the CPI (M)’s approach to various parties, especially parties with a communal orientation. So far as the Muslim and Christian communities are concerned, the CPI (M) has been particularly eager to attract the parties with a mass support.”

He further pointed out, “This is because the representation of minorities in the party’s membership is comparatively low. Kerala has 54% Hindu population and the non-Hindus in the CPI (M) membership constitute only 8%. This shows that they have not been able, over the years, to attract the minority communities to the extent they would like and to make up for the shortfall, they are looking for other parties, Muslim parties.”

The emergence and growth of Popular Front of India

The National Development Front (NDF), the predecessor of PFI, was formed in 1993 with the aim of creating a base among the downtrodden – the Dalits and the marginalised – other than winning over the Muslims.

“NDF did the penetration successfully; they had even done a pan-India movement based in Assam and Manipur. The NDF in due course transformed into the PFI. The workers of Jamaat-e-Islami and SIMI also had become part of the NDF. The demolition of Babri Masjid and the ban on The Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in 2001 had an impact on the PFI,” a source who has been monitoring the activities of the PFI said.

SIMI is an Islamist extremist organisation that was started in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, in April 1977.

“The first Chairman of NDF was E Aboobecker who was a SIMI activist. They could gain national attention with the peripheral image that they stand for human rights and even international attention by taking stand in the Israel-Palestine fight. PFI was formed by incorporating two organisations viz. Karnataka Forum for Dignity and Tamil Nadu Manitha Neethi Pasarai,” the source added. SIMI was banned by the government in 2001, while the PFI came into existence in November  2006.

PFI has seen a fair share of run-ins with the law and order forces, apart from the hand-chopping case. In 2013, the Kannur police arrested 98 PFI activists on the charge of sticking provocative posters against a police officer. Twenty-one PFI workers from Narath in April 2013 were arrested on charges of participating in weapons training, which provoked the outfit into retaliating violently against the police. In January 2016, the NIA Special Court sentenced 21 PFI and SDPI activists in the Narath arms training camp case.

The CPI (M) support

“Though the outer image PFI projects is standing up for human rights and the rights of people of the Muslim community, its hidden agenda is the liberation of India through Islam. The CPI (M) in the initial years had allowed them to grow. In the early days of the NDF, there was even a saying that those who are CPI (M) during the day are NDF during the night,” a political analyst said.

The reason for the CPI (M) supporting PFI was the weakening of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), another Muslim political outfit, after its head Abdul Nasser Madani’s arrest in connection with the Bengaluru serial blasts case.

“The only other Muslim political outfit was the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), which has aligned with the CPI (M)’s opponent Congress. By siding with PFI, the CPI (M) clearly eyed the votes of the community people who back PFI,” he added.

According to Bhaskar, the CPI (M) tried wooing IUML earlier but failed to offer the party a Cabinet post and bring it into the mainstream.

“Today, I don’t think that anybody can accuse the IUML of being a communal party, because, over the years, they have imbibed the characteristics which we would look for in a so-called secular party. But the CPI (M) now depends on other Muslim parties as the IUML has turned out to be a staunch ally of the Congress. Now, the CPI (M) is wooing the breakaway groups. So long as the IUML is there as a secular party or a soft communal party, there will be attempts to create a rival which is not going to be certainly of the same kind, but of a more extremist kind of character,” he pointed out.

When asked about the sudden action against SDPI or PFI after the murder of Abhimanyu, Bhaskar said, “This is something which all political parties must remember when we go in to deal with parties that are essentially depending on communal votes. Here again, what we have to see is when a party comes, they will imitate the way of mainstream parties, who have their own student, labour and women’s organisations. So, if you are a party with a communal orientation, their affiliation will also be of that kind. Campus violence has been going on in Kerala for a long time, but suddenly people have become cautious about it because one of the parties involved is a communal party.”

One of the things which have emerged is that there have been parallel memberships in both the CPI (M) and SDPI, he said.

“It is very difficult to say if one person belongs to a secular party or a communal party, because people would be there in both these kind of outfits. There needs to be a clean-up in the system, and I think the mainstream parties should take the lead,” Bhaskar concluded.