Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his father, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, have time and again expressed their indebtedness to Muslims for voting them to power in the assembly elections earlier this year.
"Many innocent Muslim youths have been framed in cooked up cases. We will always help such people," Mulayam Singh told IANS recently. Muslims comprise about 19 percent of the 200 million population of the country's most populous state and are hence wooed by all parties.
The father-son duo have said in the past that cases against "innocent" Muslims arrested in "false" terrorism cases would be dropped. The government thereafter moved Oct 31 a notification seeking withdrawal of cases against the accused in the March 7, 2006, serial bombing cases that ripped through Varanasi and killed 20 people.
The government's move, other than inviting criticism from parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has also been resented by the bureaucracy. "This is a dangerous precedent that we are setting," said a government official, adding that not only would this divide the state on strong communal lines but would also encourage terrorism.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief and former chief minister Mayawati also slammed the SP government for "letting off terrorists".
Talking to reporters outside parliament in New Delhi, Mayawati said her party would raise the matter in the house as this move could set a dangerous precedent.
Allahabad High Court Thursday rapped Akhilesh Yadav's government on the matter.
A bench of Justice R.K. Agarwal and Justice R.S.R. Maurya observed: "Today you are releasing them, tomorrow you may give them the Padma Bhushan." The court also said that whether one was accused or not was a matter to be decided by courts, not politicians.
Through the Oct 31 notification, the state government had sought to withdraw cases against all those accused in the serial blasts at Varanasi's Dashvashmedh Ghat, the Cantonment railway station and the famous Hanuman temple, Sankatmochan. The bench asked the state government on what grounds the cases were being withdrawn. The petition against the government's move was filed by social activist Rakesh Srivastava and advocate Nityanand Chaubey.
The bench questioned the state government whether the move would not encourage criminals and terrorism.
The court's observations, many feel, were not only justified but "due for a long time". BJP leader Kalraj Mishra accused the government of "playing with national security for petty vote bank politics". He added: "This is a very serious matter and we have been raising this for a very long time. I am happy that the judiciary has taken note of it."
Mohammad Rafae, public relations secretary with the Students Islamic organization (SIO), which held a massive protest against the arrest and detention of Muslims by the police in Lucknow, Thursday called the moves by the "SP government mere lip service".
He pointed out the case of a certain Shakeel from Sitapur who, he alleged, was wrongfully arrested recently. "We have been given assurances by many, including Revenue Minister Ambika Chowdhary, that no innocent person would be arrested or harassed, but that's not happening," Rafae said.
"If someone is guilty and there is evidence against him, he should be arrested, but innocent students should not be harassed," he added.
There are 63 Muslim legislators in the 403-member state assembly, 40 of whom are from the SP.
While many SP leaders admit in private that the move was "triggering a major votes polarisation", they said they would have to do it for the sake of "Mission 2014". Mulayam Singh, however, is more forthright and says that a lot of "innocent Muslims have been framed by previous governments and that the SP government would do all that is possible to help them".
Officials in the state government, however, say that the judicial reprimand was egg on the face of the government, which might force it to do a rethink.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)