Exactly a year after Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma demanded a ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI) claiming that the organisation was involved in the violence in Darrang district during an eviction drive, the central government declared the outfit and its associates/ affiliates/fronts as an “unlawful association” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
Two persons, including a 12-year-old boy, were killed and 20 others were injured after a mob clashed with the police during an eviction drive in Assam’s Darrang district on September 23 last year.
Demanding a ban on the outfit, Sarma had claimed that the PFI was involved in the Darrang district violence.
Six days before the banning of the PFI, the Assam police arrested ten of its leaders on September 22.
A top police officer said that these PFI leaders were arrested as there is reliable information that they were making all out efforts to foment communal strife in Assam.
“They were indulging in whipping up communal passions and sentiments of the religious minority by criticising every policy of the government with communal overtones which include the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), NRC (National Register of Citizens) and ‘D’-Voter (doubtful voter issue), the New Education Policy, Assam’s Cattle Protection Act., Teachers’ Eligibility Test examinations,” the police officer said refusing to be named.
He said these PFI leaders had been instigating the people against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Agnipath scheme, eviction from encroached government lands with a view to term these actions as an attack on the Muslim community.
Police officials said that the PFI leaders were also obstructing the government officials in performing their duty by use of force, while the organisation was trying to conduct several programmes in some districts of Assam by violating prohibitory orders.
Giving details, Assam police officials said that the PFI leaders had been extensively using cyber space to provoke the people to defy the government and to divide society on religious lines and obstruct the government in the execution of its policies.
“They were provoking the people against the government with the aim to spread mistrust among the public against the government. These PFI leaders were also misleading and inciting the people against the government by taking up issues which occurred outside the state and miss-campaigning through social media platforms.”
The PFI leaders, according to the police officials, are organising protests on such issues in very communally sensitive areas like Badarpur, Karimganj, Barpeta, Baksa, Kamrup (Rural), Goalpara and Kamrup (Metro) districts, the police said. They were also trying to spread communal feelings in Muslim dominated pockets by whipping up their sentiments on the issue of communal violence, Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti that took place in Rajasthan.
The ten PFI leaders were arrested in various cases as they were found actively involved in propagating anti-establishment propaganda with communal overtones to polarise people on religious lines in Assam, posing a serious threat to the security of the country.
Sarma said that the Assam government has already initiated follow-up action against the PFI and the Campus Front of India (CFI) in Kamrup Metro, Baksa and Karimganj districts.
Sarma, who holds the Home portfolio, said that the PFI and CFI have been radicalising people in Assam and creating a fertile ground to facilitate terror outfits such as the Bangladesh based Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) to recruit the youth.
As part of the nationwide raids by various agencies, including the National Investigation Agency (NIA), more than 36 PFI leaders and members have been arrested from various districts of Assam over the past week.
Assam Minister of Information and Public Relations, Pijush Hazarika said that the PFI orchestrated violence during the anti-CAA agitation.
Assam had witnessed violent protests in 2019 and early 2020 which claimed five lives after Parliament passed the Act, which makes minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.
In Manipur, various law enforcing agencies, led by NIA Deputy Superintendent of Police J.S. Raukela on September 22 raided various offices of the PFI including their major office at Lilong in Thoubal district.
Sources said that some PFI leaders and activists in Manipur are likely to be arrested soon.
In Nagaland, Chief Secretary J. Alam referring to the Centre’s notification said that the state government has directed that the Commissioner of Police, the District Magistrates, and the Deputy Commissioners shall exercise their powers accordingly.
In Tripura, a top police officer told IANS that there is no major PFI activity noticed in the state yet.
In Meghalaya, Director General of Police Lajja Ram Bishnoi said in Shillong that after getting the inputs on jihadi activities in Assam, directions have been given to all the police stations and outposts, particularly in those areas having borders with Bangladesh, to keep a close watch on the bordering villages.
“Our intelligence officials and police personnel are alert over the jihadi activities,” he said.
Besides Assam, there are a reasonable number of Muslim populations in most of the northeastern states.
According to Census 2011, Muslims account for 34.22 per cent of the population in the entire state, while Hindus and other religions account for the rest of the 3.12 crore population of Assam. Of the 126 assembly seats, religious minorities decide the electoral fate in 23 seats, mostly in western and southern Assam and play a crucial role in about seven more assembly seats in different districts.
Of Assam’s 34 districts, 12 per cent or more of the Muslim population resides in 19 districts. In six districts (out of 19 districts) the Muslim population constitutes 50 per cent or more.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at email@example.com)