From a little-known madrassa teacher to a shadowy terror accused to the poster boy of Muslim anger — Khalid Mujahid’s 30-odd years of life were full of unpredictable twists and turns. And now his mysterious death in police custody on May 18 could well upset the Samajwadi Party’s Muslim applecart in Uttar Pradesh.
Since the 2008 Batla House encounter in Delhi, when Azamgarh was tagged the nursery of terror, many Muslims in UP vociferously opposed the “victimisation of innocent boys” in terror cases. And with a promise to review the terror cases and release the innocent, the SP rode to power in 2012.
Ironically, one of their first cases for “review and release” backfired, with a court rejecting the state’s plea for Mujahid’s release and his subsequent death in custody.
Mujahid, an orphan brought up by his uncle Zahir Alam Falahi in Jaunpur’s Madiayhoun town, received a regular Islamic education and became a teacher in his uncle’s madrassa.
His arrest on December 20, 2007 shoved him into the limelight. The charges against him provided another dimension to the narrative of his life.
It started in Deoband in 2001-2002, with his meeting Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) commander Abdul Raqeeb, who inducted him into the terror outfit before being shot down in 2003.
Following a 15-day crash course in PoK, Mujahid was able to assemble and plant bombs — which he allegedly did on November 23, 2007, according to police officers, some of whom, including former DGP Brij Lal, were booked for Mujahid’s death.
The serial blasts in the courts of Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi claimed 14 lives. Mujahid had allegedly planted the bombs in Faizabad and Lucknow.
Had it not been for his uncle Falahi, Mujahid’s story would probably have ended here — with years in jail as an undertrial. But Falahi, an office-bearer of the Jamait-e-Islami-e-Hind, took up the matter with a vengeance.
Jamait, and its sister organisation, Arshad Madani’s Jamat Ulema-e-Hind, have considerable influence among the Muslims. And together with the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, they exerted enough pressure for the government to take notice.
But on May 10, a court in Barabanki refused to buy the state’s argument that nothing substantial was found against Mujahid and the case against him could be withdrawn in the public interest.
Eight days later, Mujahid died.
“The Muslim community wanted Mujahid’s release but the SP government sent his dead body instead,” said BSP national general secretary Naseemuddin Siddiqui.
The death is still a mystery — even though 42 police officers have been booked, a probe is on and another by the CBI has been called for.
While Mujahid’s family claimed the body bore injuries, a post-mortem drew a blank. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said the man had probably died of ill health while Mujahid’s lawyer blamed it on six years of torture in jail.
While the case will drag on, with Muslim organisations fuelling the fire, it certainly has queered the pitch for the SP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The erstwhile Mayawati government had not exactly ordered action against Muslims, but it had insisted on speedy probes in blast cases. And the report of the Justice Nimish Commission which was set up by Mayawati under pressure in 2008 — which recommended stern action against the police’s special task force (STF) for picking up innocent youths — is gathering dust.
Now the SP, which had capitalised on the situation, stands discredited.
The Muslims are no longer ready to buy the argument that the SP wants to help release innocent youths — a move the government had made in the face of strong opposition from the BSP and the BJP.
“The SP was trying to fool Muslims by moving the petition. It was political propaganda to get Muslim votes in the Lok Sabha polls,” said Mujahid’s lawyer Mohammed Shoaib. The agitation launched by smaller parties such as the Ulema Council, Peace Party and Qaumi Ekta Dal — which have support in Muslim pockets of eastern UP — is giving it the jitters. And the Jamaat, whose support Mulayam Singh Yadav was counting on, may not be so forthcoming.
The party’s only face-saver, perhaps, would be a move it is least ready to take — action against erring STF officers as recommended by the Nimish Commission. But given the pressure on the law and order front that might prove somewhat risky.
So, for the present, the Akhilesh Yadav government appears to be caught between the devil and the deep sea.