Akhilesh in a bind as courts halt Muslim 'appeasement' move

The Samajwadi Party (SP) would not have imagined even in its wildest of dreams that an innocuous looking promise which was apparently aimed at garnering the support of the Muslims in the 2012 Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh could become its greatest headache.

The promise that pertained to the release of ‘innocent’ Muslim youths lodged in various jails in the state on charges of acts of terrorism now threatens to cost the SP its support in the Muslim community as the state government has not so far been able to ensure freedom of any of the accused during its 15 month rule.

Barely a few months after assuming the reins of the state, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav directed the law department to initiate steps for the withdrawal of cases against 19 persons, who have been accused of terror acts and against whom cases were pending trial.

Among those, whose release were sought by the government, were some who had been accused of triggering blasts that had killed several people. Incidentally one of the accused, Nasir Hussain alias Arif, a Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami member, had, according to the police, received training in Pakistan in handling arms and ammunition. He had been arrested in Lucknow in June 2006 and the police had recovered RDX, detonators, battery and a timer from his possession. The police had then claimed that Arif had been asked to trigger blasts at important places in the country.

Similarly another accused Mohammad Yaqub was also an alleged HuJI member and was arrested from here in 2007. A timer device and some explosives were recovered from his possession. Five others have been accused of raising pro-Pakistan slogans in court premises.

The government had sought a report from the authorities in the districts and the law department over the possibility of withdrawing cases against the accused named in the court blasts at Varanasi, Gorakhpur and Faizabad in 2007, serial blasts at Varanasi in the same year and the attack of the CRPF camp at Rampur in 2008.

In some cases the district officials had opined that withdrawal of cases against the accused would not be in public interest. “It will set a bad precedent,” the district officials opined according to sources, who were privy to the response by the district authorities. The officials said that the crime committed by the accused were serious in nature and several people had lost their lives in the blasts. They had also claimed that the prosecution had credible evidence against all the blast accused.

Succumbed to pressure

Though the state government initially hesitated against making any hasty decision on this count given the sensitivity of the matter, it succumbed to the pressure exerted by different Muslim organisations in this regard. They had come down heavily on the SP regime for not honouring its promise made during the Assembly polls that it would release the ‘innocent’ Muslim youths who had been ‘falsely implicated’ in terror charges.

“The UP government has taken steps to withdraw criminal cases against SP workers and leaders that had been slapped on them during the previous regime but it has done nothing to get the innocent Muslim youths released from the jail,” Mohammed Shuaib, convener of one such organizations, said. “We will expose the true face of the SP leadership if it did not keep their promise,” Shuaib said. Some senior Muslim clerics also lambasted the government in this regard.

But  Akhilesh Yadav’s move to withdraw cases against terror accused suffered a major blow when the courts not only rejected its plea for withdrawal of cases against the terror suspects but also came down heavily on the government for the move. The Allahabad high court said, “Who will decide if someone is a terrorist...when the matter is before the court then let it decide who a terrorist is...is the government encouraging terrorism by taking initiatives to free them?'', the high court observed while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the move.

“Today you will release the terrorist...tomorrow you may honour them with Padmabhushan,” the  court said.

Earlier a Barabanki district court had rejected the government application to withdraw terror charges against Gorakhpur serial blasts accused Tariq Kasmi and Khalid Mujahid. Mujahid later died while on way here from a court appearance from Faizabad. A few days later, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court also stayed the move and referred the matter to a larger bench.

An undeterred Akhilesh said that the government had performed its duty. “We did what we could...we will study the court order and take a suitable decision'', he added.
The BJP however welcomed the court decision saying that the move of the government was nothing but an attempt to ‘appease’ the Muslim community ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls.

In the last election, the SP had attacked the Congress for its ‘double standards’ on the Batla House encounter in Delhi in 2008 after Congress leader Digvijay Singh had termed it as ‘fake.’The resentment against the Congress had cost it dear in the polls.

Muslims, who constitute around 20 per cent of the state's electorate, play a decisive role in around 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state. They will be key to making SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav’s dream of making it to the top post come true post 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

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