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INTERVIEW: Mohammad Sulieman
"Mr. Bhutto was hanged under section 120-b" 

Tahir Mahood
Mohammad Sulieman is the all India general secretary of Indian National League and a member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board. He was detained under National Security Act (NSA) for fifteen months after being accused of instigating riots in Kanpur on March 16, 2001. He is the principal of a 160-year old institution, Faiz-e-Aam Inter College, Kanpur. Syed Haider Abbas spoke to him during a recent visit to Lucknow.
Since you have been in active electoral politics for quite sometime when did you most narrowly miss the chance of making it to the assembly?
I was made to lose the 1989 elections from Arya Nagar constituency in Kanpur by a margin of 85 votes. I was then the candidate of Indian Union Muslim League. 

What is the purpose of your visit to Lucknow?
I have been visiting Lucknow off and on. This time it was to participate in a joint dharna organised by Indian Muslim Political Conference. 

What was the agenda of the dharna?
The dharna was to remind Chief Minister Mayawati of her responsibility to issue a fresh notification against Babri Masjid demolition accused as directed by the Supreme Court on July 29 . Six Muslim political parties from all over Uttar Pradesh participated in it. The Supreme Court has directed the state government to clarify its position on issuing a fresh notification against the Babri Masjid demolition accused, so that criminal proceedings could be initiated against LK Advani, MM Joshi,Uma Bharti and others. The Supreme Court gave eight weeks time for it, which ends on September 23.

Tell us something about the Indian National League
Indian National League was founded on April 23, 1994 under the presidentship of Ibrahim Sulieman Seth, at Aiwan-e-Ghalib, Delhi, and I am proud that Ram Singh Yadav was one of the founding members of it. Our executive committee meeting on June 15-16, 2002 decided that we were to organise an awareness campaign against the policy of continually reserving some parliamentary and assembly seats in UP for SC/ST candidates for the past 36 to 40. This is in violation of the People’s Representation Act. We demand the reservations should be made rotational, not perpetual. 

After the Kanpur riots you were arrested in a dramatic manner. Can you enlighten us on that?
The Times of India, correspondent Akshaya Mukul made a phone call to me on March 17, 2001 asking me for an interview the next day. I knew it very well that my phone was tapped. I think the police knew it that they could not arrest me at my home. The interview lasted not more than half an hour, when suddenly we heard a knock at the door. Akshay Makul opened the door and we saw police officers at the door step. The police threatened him saying whether he wanted to return to Delhi safely. One of the officers, a deputy superintendent, snatched his notepad and tore off the paper on which the interview was recorded. 

What were the charges against you?
Three charges were brought against me. One under the Indian Penal Code Section 153-A, 153-B/188, the second under 147, 148, 149, 121-A 121-B, and yet another under the National Security Act (NSA). I have been given bail in all these cases, but legal proceedings are still on. The NSA was slapped on April 8, 2001, and it was quashed on March 21, 2002.
Were you accused of a murder inside jail?
It was on May 18, 2001, when I was made to appear in court for the extension of judicial remand. I was taken out of the jail premises at 7:15 am from Fatehgarh jail, 135 kms from Kanpur. I returned at 8:25 pm. On my return I was told that someone had committed suicide in an abandoned toilet. The dead man’s body was sent for an autopsy. In August 2001, two Indian Police Service officers came from Lucknow. They did not give their names, talked for more than two hours, and wanted a bargain for revoking the NSA. They wanted that I should say Student Islamic Movement of India(SIMI) had got the Quran burning posters printed and SIMI had engineered the riots. But when I did not agree, they said that some murder had taken place inside jail. To which I said that on that day I was not in the jail. Immediately, one of the officers threatened me that they would book me under the charge of conspiracy of killing that man. “Mr. Bhutto was hanged under section 120-B”, he threatened. I still remember him saying that. They used it as a phrase to intimidate me, but I proved to be a pretty hard nut to crack.

Does the Jail register show their entry?
No. To my surprise, I discovered that there was no entry-exit of those officers shown officially. The police also framed the charge against me that I had rented room No. 1551 on the fifteenth floor of Landmark Hotel, whereas it was booked by Akshay Mukul himself. Fortunately enough, I was not present on the day when the suicide took place. It was on these grounds that I was granted bail. 

Were you alone in the named first information report filed by the police?
No. They have named some other people in it as well. The police say that they had fled the scene once they saw police coming. I just ask one thing: is it possible for someone to flee the fifteenth floor of a hotel when the entire hotel is surrounded by the police?.

Did they torture you in jail? 
No. They were very respectful to me. In fact, I studied a lot during my detention. I also wrote a book during those days.

Who instigated those riots?
It was not a riot. It was a blatant, unprovoked police firing on innocent Muslims. An additional district magistrate, CP Pathak, was killed with a 9 mm cartridge used by police themselves. The incident took place due to criminal negligence of the district administration. Some irresponsible boys burned the effigy of the prime minister in reaction to the Tehelka expose. I have been in active politics since 1974, and have never burnt the effigy of any politician. I very strongly believe that Allah helped me come out of the difficult times.



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