By Haider Abbas
Travelling to Sitapur Jail, some 80 kms to the north of state capital, Lucknow, needs preparations. ‘Lock Stock Barrel’, the formalities were done as RTPCR document needed to produced firstly. At 12: 30 pm, we enter Sitapur Jail where Muhammed Azam Khan, the most powerful Muslim political face, in the country, has been stranded since February 26, 2020, as a part of the worst political vendetta, witnessed in post-independent India. Yes, he is by any standard the pivot of Muslim politics in UP, where around 40/200 million Muslims reside, which is the biggest in the country. His credibility and political worth is chiseled in bronze and has remained unwavered in the past more than 40 years. This is by no means an exaggeration, as he is a nine-time MLA, Ex. Rajya Sabha MP, his wife Dr Tazeen Fatima is MLA and Ex. Rajya Sabha MP, his son is MLA and he himself is sitting MP from Rampur. He is the founder-chancellor of Jauhar University in Rampur.
The meeting, on December 1, inside his ‘suicide-barrack’ found him with the same beaming face while everyone encircled him sporting a ‘jail-stamp’ on the right hand. It was supposedly my second-consecutive visit in three days, as on November 28, I was there too, but everyone was disallowed as the estranged Shivpal Yadav had come to meet him. Shivpal Yadav, is the uncle of Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav, had revolted against SP in 2012 and now there are some signs of thaw. My first visit to Sitapur Jail was on February 28, 2020, later I was around Medanta Hospital, Lucknow, every third-fourth day where he underwent treatment as he was diagnosed Covid-positive along with his son. My earlier visit inside Sitapur Jail was on November 7.
The first out-pouring sentiments were ‘sobs and tears’. Some cried bitterly as MA Khan comforted everyone. What however was different was an absolute different set of people this time, as Mushtaq Ahmed Siddiqui, senior counsel and member of Jauhar University Trust, Muhammed Arafat-a social activist, Abrar Ahmed MLA (SP), Insram Ali-Ex. Vice-Chairman of Minorities Commission (BSP), Safia Bano , social activist from Azamgarh, and lot many young faces from all across UP were there. There were about 50 people who were outside the jail as they could not be accommodated. Inside the jail, for the first ten minutes, was a scene of presenting dozens of different-different fruits, dry-fruits, date- palms, sweet-figs, biscuits, sweets etc and everything eatable. MA Khan was quite moved, as janitor served sweets and biscuits from Rampur Bakery, once a British-delight during the erstwhile Rampur Nawabi, to one and all.
“ Every evening, inside the compound of my barrack there is a festive-season as all the jail inmates, particularly females, come and I distribute all the fruits etc to all, next to the employees inside the jail,” said MA Khan as the opening sentence.
Thereafter, the discussion moved as to how the district authorities stationed a big-surveillance-vehicle outside the wall of the barrack, for one year, to detect the use of any mobile-phone, where there was none, and the Jailor and Jail Superintendent had to swear by their children that MA Khan was not using any cell-phone, which was quite incomprehensible, as even petty criminals have such liberties inside UP jails!
MA Khan was this time on a high note of nostalgia, as he enumerated details to the rapt attention of the attendees. He was on a memory trip as he reflected that when he was jailed-for 19 months during Emergency (1975-77), his first stop was UP Aligarh Jail, where his barrack was that of a dreaded Sunder Daku (dacoit)-a dungeon where barely the sunlight was visible. There he was fed with only chana ( chickpeas) which made him loose his jaw teeth. In the same barrack was ‘saw-dust’ in a container to serve to the natural needs. Later he was shifted to another barrack where one Mr Wadhwa, who was an RSS affiliate, was his inmate. Here, as a mark of his own luck, a boy who was a pick-pocket, would bring him the best vegetable food every-day. He never met that boy again.
But, as fate was to have it, one night Mr Wadhwa had massive palpitations, which made MA Khan shout hoarse for help but ‘no one turned-up’. The next morning when the doctor arrived he was boorish to the core, which made MA Khan turn furious, making the doctor turn-pale. His transfer orders were ready. He was therefore now to be charged under Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) from Defense of India Rules (DIR) and transferred to Benarus Jail. MISA was the most draconian law of that time but MA Khan this time was also to be handcuffed. He would not relent until his hands were to be broken! This made District Magistrate of Aligarh to intercede and authorities relented. Thus, his Benarus journey began. MA Khan was then in the last year of his pursuing Masters of Law from Aligarh Muslim University. He was also the Secretary of the Student Union there.
Inside the Benarus Jail, as he entered came a voice, Idhar aa jaiye (Please come this side) from one Mr. Habib-ul-Lah, an elderly man who was a German citizen. He was very courteous and hospitable. Soon, the gala time began, as there was music, drama, dance, harmonium, table all round the clock. MA Khan was made in-charge of the non-Vegetarian mess. Emergency was a treat-to-watch, while many of the inmates were out-on-bail, some were granted parole, which MA Khan was also accorded-with, but he refused to come-out-on-parole.
He recollected about one Mr. Maitree who was an officer, known for his bad mouth, and once he ordered everyone to stand-in-line and everyone’s belongings were frisked. Blank papers, carbon, Inland letter cards were found, and hence, was a grave crime. Maitree gave everyone the worst of expletives, until MA Khan sought to intervene and made him realize that unless a hefty ‘greasing-the-palm’ happens such things were not to happen, thus, making him turn-turtle. MISA was dropped and MA Khan returned to AMU-to witness the most heroic welcome after independence. He reminisced his friend, Mr. Zarrar, to have carried him on his shoulders, as thousands and thousands, thronged his railway compartment from either sides.
By this time, it was 2 pm as janitor stood hands-folded, but the punch-line was yet to come. MA Khan, referred to another jail inmate Kalyan Singh, later to be BJP UP CM and Rajasthan Governor, to have written a letter to the then PM Indira Gandhi, in the best hand writing, that ‘ Poot to Ka-poot ho sakta hai, par Ma Ku-Mata nahi ho sakti, mujhko chh.od deejiye ( A son may be a bad son but there cannot be a bad mother, please let me go), in a true reflection as to how VD Sawarkar bowed to the British, while MA Khan came unscathed during Emergency and this time too: soon very soon.
Any message for the people of UP? “Yes, SP is forming the next government. My best wishes to Akhilesh Yadav,” his voice resonated the whole environment. He has been the founder-member of SP.
The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and a political analyst.