New Delhi: A radical Muslim leader in Kerala dismisses charges of terrorism flung at his outfit and insists there is not even one reason for the Popular Front of India (PFI) to be banned.
In contrast to the sinister image the group has acquired in the eyes of its critics, PFI chairman EM Abdul Rahiman says his organisation respects the law and has been crusading for the rights and social justice of Muslims, the country`s largest religious minority.
"There is not even a single reason to ban our organisation," Rahiman, 56, said after Minister of State for Home Affairs Mulapally Ramachandran said the Kerala government was yet to seek a ban on the group.
The PFI has been slowly and steadily growing in Kerala but it catapulted to headlines after the right hand of a college professor, TJ Joseph, was chopped off on July 4 by suspected PFI activists. Joseph`s crime? He allegedly prepared a question paper that had derogatory references to Prophet Mohammed.
The PFI head called the attack a crime and vowed to take "appropriate disciplinary action" if anyone in the group was found involved. He says he is ready to cooperate with the police to get to the culprits.
"Popular Front is a social movement with origins in the Muslim community. It strives for human rights and social justice. We stand for democratic values and the rule of law," he said. "We will not allow anybody associated with us to take the law into their hands."
Rahiman, a post-graduate in political science who took voluntary retirement from Cochin University in 2006, has emerged as a cult figure among young Muslims in Kerala disgusted with the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a party many feel has become a part of the establishment.
"It is true that the question paper (prepared by Joseph) hurt the sentiments of Muslims. That might have provoked someone to take revenge. But we do not justify the (attack). We are not responsible for it," said Rahiman, who also holds a masters degree in library and information sciences as well as a post-graduate diploma in journalism.
Asked if he thought the hand-chopping incident was an act of terror, Rahiman retorted: "It is a criminal act. What makes an act of terror different from an act of crime, I don`t know. If it means criminal acts by organised groups, it has become routine in Kerala, particularly (in clashes) between RSS/BJP (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party) and the ruling CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist)."
The PFI was formed at Kozhikode in November 2006 merging three outfits: the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD-Karnataka), the National Development Front (NDF-Kerala) and the Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP-Tamil Nadu).
Rahiman, who had worked with the NDF since it was formed following the Babri Masjid razing in 1992, said the allegation that Popular Front wanted to Talibanise Muslim society was an insult to Muslims in India.
"The Taliban are local people of Afganistan fighting the invasion of the US and allied forces. Do you term brutal acts of foreign forces as `Americanism` or `Obamaism`?" But he quickly adds: "It does not mean we approve every act of Taliban or any other group."
He said there was a "strong communal influence" in the police and media in Kerala.
He described the PFI, headquartered in Bangalore, as "a low budget organisation" and said its funding sources were its "thousands of cadres from whom we collect monthly subscription".
Rahiman, who became PFI chairman in 2009, denied the group trained Muslim youths. With presence in 16 states, he says the Front stands for peace and harmony as opposed to "Stalinist politics and Hindutva fascism".