The escape and the killing of eight suspected members of the banned SIMI in an alleged gunfight with police have put the spotlight back on Khandwa, a small town about 280km from the state capital Bhopal.
Five of the men killed on Monday after the alleged shootout, which activists and opposition say was a staged gunfight, were from Khandwa, the alleged hotspot of Students Islamic Movement of India in Madhya Pradesh.
Sources in intelligence agencies point to Safdar Nagori, the chief of SIMI’s radical wing, for Khandwa emerging as the centre of the group’s activities in Madhya Pradesh.
Nagori, who is lodged in Gujarat’s Sabarmati jail, is alleged to have established links with militant groups and taking SIMI to south India. He hails from Mahidpur in Ujjain, which is part of the Malwa-Nimad region that includes Khandwa, once a famous centre of Jainism. Nagori, said sources, was popular and managed to influence many local youth.
“SIMI flourished in MP during Digvijaya Singh’s regime. It was the BJP which demolished its structure,” Deepak Vijayvargiya, chief spokesperson of the party’s state unit said. Singh led a Congress government in the state from 1993-2003.
Three of the eight men -- Mehboob Guddu, Zakir Hussain and Amjad Khan – killed on Monday were among the seven SIMI men who escaped from the Khandwa jail in October 2013.
The encounter and questions swirling around it also tie closely with the SIMI’s history in Madhya Pradesh.
A look at police records reveal that 83 first information reports (FIR) are registered against SIMI in Madhya Pradesh. Most of these were filed in 2001, the year the organisation was banned under the prevention of terrorism act, better known as Pota. The next wave of FIRs – 22 of them – came in 2008, HT found.
But, the only instance of violence involving the proscribed group in the state was reported from Teen Pulia area of Khandwa when on November 28, 2008, an anti-terrorist cell constable, Sitaram Yadav, was gunned down by Abu Faisal, one of the two prominent second-rung SIMI leaders.
Faisal, who is connected to Khandwa through marriage, is serving a life term in the high-security Bhopal jail from where the eight members allegedly broke out. The fact that Faisal was left behind by the group has led to questions being asked about police’s version of the events.
Faisal’s compatriot, Abdul Khilji, too, was killed on Monday. He was arrested on April 16, 2006 for allegedly fanning discord between Hindus and Muslims as Khandwa battled communal riots.
However, the key charges against Khilji were that he had a copy of SIMI constitution (dastoor), membership forms and copies of some pro-SIMI publications.
The pattern repeats itself. Seventy-one of the 83 FIRs are for possessing SIMI literature, which includes posters, membership coupons and in some cases even newspaper articles.
“See these posters and other literature are the initial tendencies and they encourage radicalism and create unrest. So it’s better to prevent it and we have done everything within the law,” Vijayvargiya said.
“I was on the verge of securing an acquittal for Khilji but the police did not want him to get out as they feared he would revive SIMI in the state. But the fact is police allegations are flimsy,” Khilji’s lawyer Parvez Alam told HT.
HT spoke to several police officers but they declined comment.
Nagori and 12 others were arrested on March 26, 2008, in a second wave of arrests in a case that came to be known as Pithumpur case. HT has seen letters written by the then Dhar police chief to several counterparts in other district to register cases against those named in a diary recovered from Nagori. But most of the cases collapsed in court, Alam said.
In a report published in 2014, the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association brought out several anomalies in cases against SIMI members. One of the examples it cited was that of the cases filed in Bhopal’s Talliya and Shahjanabad police stations on October 22, 2000.
In both cases, the same set of men is accused of committing identical crimes at two different places but at the same time.
Two robberies in 2010 – in State Bank of Indore and Manappuram Gold’s office in Hanumanganj in Bhopal -- also shine the light on state’s handling of SIMI.
Faisal, who allegedly took over from Nagori after he was jailed, was arrested in the Manappuram case. He was also wanted for his alleged role in the 2008 Ahmedabad blasts that left 56 people dead. Mehboob Guddu, a close aide of Faisal, was also arrested in the case. Both had escaped from the Khandwa jail as well.