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As Uttar Pradesh rolls into the first phase of its assembly elections on February 10 and leaders of all prominent political parties’ exchange barbs at poll rallies, one stalwart is conspicuous by his absence.
Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, the sitting Member of Parliament from Rampur, has been incarcerated for the last two years.
The Adityanath government’s efforts to ensure that Khan is not able to campaign for his party started with an election petition before the Allahabad high court, challenging his son Abdullah Azam Khan’s election from Suar constituency in the 2017 assembly election on the ground that he was not 25 years of age on the date of the election.
Although the doctor who delivered Abdullah Azam Khan in the Queen Mary Hospital, Lucknow, herself testified as to the date of delivery, the high court disregarded her testimony saying she could not possibly identify the baby she delivered as the man standing before her in court.
The high court therefore set aside Abdullah Azam’s election.
This case has been used as the basis for registering several FIRs against Azam Khan, his son Abdullah and wife Tazeen Fatima for allegedly forging various identification documents related to Abdullah.
There are a total of 87 criminal cases pending against Azam Khan, of which as many as 84 FIRs were registered in the two years after the BJP came into power in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. Eighty one out of these 84 cases were registered during the period immediately before and after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Khan’s supporters believe that these FIRs have been registered based on complaints procured by the Bhartiya Janata Party with the intention to keep Khan incarcerated indefinitely.
Most of these FIRs have been filed with inordinate and inexplicable delay.
One of the FIRs was registered 16 years after the complaint was filed. Twenty two of the FIRs were registered 13 years after the alleged crime took place. These 22 FIRs allege that Azam Khan’s Mohammad Ali Jauhar University was built on land that has been grabbed or forcibly acquired by the Samajwadi Party leader from farmers. The university was established in 2006 and no complaints were filed till July 2019. However, between July 12 and 20, 2019, 22 FIRs were registered at Rampur’s Azeem Nagar police station, at odd hours of the morning and night.
The first FIR was registered on July 12 at 2.19 am. On July 16, between 10.30 pm and 11.30 pm, eight FIRs were registered. Between 10.30 pm on July 18 and 6 am on July 19, 10 FIRs were registered.
“It almost seems like 13 years after their land was allegedly grabbed, farmers woke up in the middle of the night and approached the police in groups of eight and 10,” says Azam Khan’s son Abdullah Azam Khan.
In the other FIRs, Azam Khan has been accused variously of participating in a conspiracy to steal a goat, stealing a buffalo, robbing an old woman of her jewellery and robbing a man of Rs 16,500 from his pocket, to list a few. Some of the FIRs substantially relate to the same allegations but seem to have been registered to increase the multiplicity of proceedings. In several cases, the same first informant, who happens to be a BJP loyalist, has registered multiple FIRs.
Azam Khan’s family claims that the allegations in most of the FIRs are too absurd to be believable.
“All these cases have been registered at the behest of the government,” says Abdullah Khan.
“My father has won nine assembly elections from Rampur and one Lok Sabha election. Do you think people would be voting for him if he was a petty thief or if he was grabbing their land? Absolutely not. He is widely loved and respected. Fact is that the BJP knew that there was no way to defeat him electorally, which is why they have taken it upon themselves to destroy our family,” he adds.
Azam Khan has been able to obtain bail in 84 cases out of the total of 87 criminal cases pending against him, including in three cases where bail was granted by the Supreme Court. Despite this, he has been in judicial custody since February 26, 2020.
The three remaining cases in which Khan is still in custody are dragging on and have been running into endless roadblocks.
A bail application in a defamation case where Khan is alleged to have defamed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, BJP and Sayyed Kalbe Jawwad Naqvi – filed five years after the defamatory statements were made – was kept pending by the judicial magistrate for two months. After this, it was transferred to the MP/MLA Court which dismissed the bail plea on January 27. Khan’s legal team has now filed an appeal before the sessions court.
The second case pertains to commission of forgery for land grabbing. This is the case in which the FIR was filed 16 years after the alleged crime was committed. The co-accused here is the person accused of actually committing the forgery. He has been granted bail by the Supreme Court. Khan’s bail application was heard, and the judgement was reserved for pronouncement by the high court on December 4, 2021. It has not been delivered in the last two months.
The third case relates to alleged impropriety in recruitment of engineers and stenographers in the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam. Since the said allegations of impropriety occurred during Khan’s time as ex officio chairman of the Jal Nigam in his capacity as cabinet minister with the Nagar Vikas portfolio, he has also been named as an accused. The 14 other accused named in the charge-sheet are on bail.
Khan’s bail application was filed on September 30, 2021, but the case has been marked by repeated adjournments and inexplicable delays. The matter was adjourned as many as eight times by the high court, forcing Khan’s lawyers to move an application for early hearing. That application mysteriously found its way to the wrong court.
The application was then listed on the next date before the judge with the roster to hear matters concerning MPs and MLAs and was directed to be listed the following week. On the next date, the matter came up before the same judge but the roster had meanwhile changed and he was no longer the roster judge for MP and MLA matters. It was directed to be listed before the roster judge on the next date.
On the last date of hearing – January 31, 2022 – when the matter finally came up before the correct judge, the case file went missing. The court asked the court staff to search for the file and the matter was supposed to be taken up after lunch. The file was finally located, but the court did not reconvene after lunch break.
A writ petition for bail was filed before the Supreme Court asking for interim bail in the three pending matters on account of elections. After hearing the plea on Tuesday, February 8, the Supreme Court asked for the matters to be mentioned again before the concerned courts. It also expressed hope that the courts will dispose of the bail applications expeditiously, as the liberty of the petitioner is involved.