Updated: January 28, 2022 6:09:46 am
“I am fighting this election to get justice for my son, and many others like him who are oppressed by this government,” says Akbari Khatoon, the Congress candidate from Bijnor. In late 2019, her 20-year-old son Mohd Suleiman was among the 22 people killed in violence during the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Suleiman’s family is the only one of the 22 which lodged an FIR against policemen, accusing them of murder.
A housewife and mother of seven, Khatoon says accepting the offer of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for a ticket is their second attempt to get justice. The Congress announced her nomination on Wednesday, and Khatoon filed her papers Thursday. Vadra had met the family after Suleiman’s killing.
In his final year of graduation, Suleiman had been living in Noida at the time, preparing for his UPSC exams. He had come home to Nehtaur in Bijnor district as he had fever, when he got caught in the police action on the protests, says the family.
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In the first such admission, the Bijnor police had confirmed that Suleiman died in firing by one of its own, Constable Mohit Kumar, calling it “self-defence”. However, in July 2020, an SIT of the Bijnor police had given a clean chit to six policemen, including the station house officer of Nehtaur Police Station, while accusing Suleiman of violence.
Suleiman’s maternal uncle Afzal Ahmad Usmani, a lawyer, says the family has challenged the SIT conclusion in the local Chief Judicial Magistrate court. “The arguments in the matter have happened twice, but no order has been passed,” says Usmani, who is helping Khatoon in her election campaign.
While it is the first election for Khatoon, who is married to a small-time farmer, several of her family members have dabbled with politics. While Usmani himself is the head of Suhagpur village under the Dhampur Assembly seat, and was a zila parishad member from 1995 to 2000, another sibling, Farooq, was the Block Pramukh for Dhampur and was murdered in 1993 allegedly over a political rivalry.
Khatoon says Vadra convinced her to contest the election “for the sake of Suleiman and others like him killed in police action during the protests in 2019”. Appreciating the Congress general secretary’s gesture of coming to their house and sharing their grief, Khatoon says: “We have been fighting for justice for more than two years. Police harassed us, but we did not back down. The Congress is giving a chance to the marginalised sections of society who have been harassed and oppressed by this government.”
Khatoon, who lives in the Mangoo Charkhi area of Bijnor, adds: “We want to ensure that society is not divided based on religion and caste. The rest is in God’s hands, but we will try to unite all marginalised sections of society.”
Vadra had announced that the Congress would set aside 40% of its tickets for women. Apart from Khatoon, the party has given tickets to the Unnao rape victim’s mother, an ASHA worker and actor-turned-activist Sadaf Jafar, who was arrested over the CAA-NRC protests.
A senior Congress leader says Bijnor has a sizeable Muslim population, giving extra weight to Khatoon’s candidature. “The SP-RLD alliance has fielded a Jat, and so has the BJP, while the BSP has fielded Ruchi Veera (a Baniya). If we get the Muslim community’s support, our candidate has a great chance of winning,” says a party leader.
As per rough estimates, the Bijnor Assembly seat has around 1.5 lakh Muslims, 62,000 Jats, around 95,000 people belonging to Scheduled Castes, apart from 20,000-odd OBCs (largely Sainis), and Brahmins.
The SP’s Jat candidate is a doctor, Neeraj Chaudhary (50), whose deceased father Tejpal Singh was a two-time MLA from Chandpur seat in Bijnor district. The BJP nominee is its sitting MLA Suchi Chaudhary, while the BSP’s Veera used to be with the SP and had won the seat in a bypoll in 2014. Veera had also unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha polls on a BSP ticket from Aonla seat in Bareilly district in 2019.
SP Bijnor district president Rashid Hussain says Chaudhary, who is fighting on the RLD symbol, is a “popular leader and doctor”. “We will be contesting elections on the issues of harmony and development and are confident of winning. Our candidate has helped the poor by giving them free treatment in times of need.”
The BJP says Shruti Chaudhary will win again due to “the development and work done by the Yogi Adityanath government”. Shruti had won in 2017 beating Veera, who then fought on a BSP ticket, by 1.05 lakh votes. The BJP had also won the seat in 2012, finishing ahead of the BSP. Veera had at the time finished fourth.
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