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The PFI, Popular Front of India, has been banned and the National Intelligence Agency has filed many cases against it for on several charges such as chopping off the hand of a college professor, of people associated with organisations espousing other faiths, collection of explosives to target prominent people and places, support to Islamic State and destruction of public property to terrorise citizens and so on. The actions have come at a time when the PFI and the SDPI were publicly involved in confronting the policies of the Central government and opposing the campaigns of the Sangh Parivar organizations such as in the hijab controversy. Eleven of the 45 PFI functionaries arrested were from Tamil Nadu, according to The Times of India. spoke to Ramu Manivannan, a well-known public intellectual and columnist, regarding the isse. After a long stint at the Political Science Departments at the universities of Delhi and Madras, Manivannan now writes in the Hindustan Times, on government administration and political subjects; his takes on education, human rights, politics, peace and protests have triggered constructive debates.

Sharing his thoughts on the recent ban on the Popular Front of India, Prof. Manivannan dwelt at length on the implications of the decision.

Asked how the outfit was born and its operations on the social and political spheres Prof. Manivannan said India had been divided on religious lines shortly after Independence. This had impacted the polity to a large extent. There emerged in the country two different societies – one consisting of majority Hindus and the other of religious minorities.  In a way, this segregation can be billed as the fall-out of a votebank-based political system.  The Indian political system has heavily been influenced by this segmentation. Besides, the Muslims’ social, economic and educational concerns and issues have not been greatly heeded, he opined.

The apathy on the part of the mainstream society has pushed the Islamic community into a dilemma: to compromise and adapt or to wage a battle?

This apathy on the part of the mainstream society has pushed the Islamic community into a dilemma: to compromise and adapt or to wage a battle?  Their position took on more poignancy after the demolition of Babri Masjid (Dec. 6, 1992). The community started feeling the inadequacy of the social awareness and feeling the need like never before to have their own organizations taking forward their concerns, he said. Several studies have pointed out that Muslims have been lagging behind in education.

In this backdrop, the PFI went the extra mile to develop education in the Muslim community. However, while making enormous contributions on this count, the organization started leaning towards politics.

On the ban on the organization, Prof. Manivannan said the right to criticize the government is guaranteed by the Constitution to every citizen of the country. When the changes to the citizenship laws posed a challenge to Muslims, Islamic organizations slammed the laws. Their criticism caused heartburn to the rulers, he said, adding that to ban the Muslim organization for that reason was not democratic.

Contending that if the bodies such as the PFI acted against the sovereignty of the country, a proper enquiry should be conducted, Prof Manivannan stressed that would only be the right approach in a democracy, not the denial of political rights.

To the question how Islamic politics has evolved and what is the space their political thinking has, Prof. Manivannan said it was the demolition of the Babri Masjid that woke them to the need for a strong political movement exclusively for the community.  He listed the reasons why Muslims had no other options but to move towards some stronghold.  He said that while the BJP allies itself with several Hindutva parties, the Islamic parties’ alliance with parties such as the DMK can seldom be termed wrong.

Moreover, he emphasized that there should be a consensus on definition of activities said to be against national sovereignty.

Asked about his take on the financial irregularities and fundamentalism of the PFI, he categorically responded, that there are no two opinions on the need for taking action against a party indulging in financial irregularities and fundamentalism.  But he posed the question if the ban would not be tantamount to psychologically paralyzing a minority organization for those reasons. After all, it is an open secret that big parties are now flush with funds flowing in from several quarters.  It is wrong to brand the funds from the Arabian countries flowing to parties as illegal and those from the European countries to certain parties as legal, he said.  Whether the accounting of funds is properly maintained must alone be taken into consideration. To judge a party purely on the basis of where its funds come from is totally wrong, he stressed.

Pointing out that the purpose of foreign fund inflows should be monitored and examined, Prof. Manivannan suggested that the same scrutiny should be extended to all  organizations.

Asked if members of the PFI in Tamil Nadu could be regarded as representatives of Muslims, Prof Manivannan’s answer was a categorical, “No.” After all, representatives keep on changing

On the seeming contradiction between the protests in Iran by women over the stringent laws mandating the wearing of hijabs as against the support from supposedly progressive outfits in Karnataka defending the right of Muslim girls and women to wear the hijab on the college campus, Prof. Manivannan said just like majority fundamentalism, there is also minority fundamentalism and we must be careful enough while stalling it.  The Karnataka row must be dealt with from political science perspectives.  “We cannot forget the fact that regarding this issue, there are reactionary as well as liberal opinions in the Islamic organizations.  Whatever community it is, its progressive thinkers must be acknowledged and recognized. In matters of acute subtlety, we must act very subtly,” the professor said categorically.

Asked if members of the PFI in Tamil Nadu could be regarded as representatives of Muslims, Prof Manivannan’s answer was a categorical, “No.”   After all, representatives keep on changing.  Only the socio-political organizations engaged with social issues of a community can be the real representatives. The PFI can be a representative of the Muslims, only if the outfit takes up their issues, relentlessly pursue them and fights for them, he said.

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