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SIMI ban fits into BJP plan
By P.M. Damodaran

Lucknow: After the ban imposed by the Central Government on Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) attracted widespread condemnation from most of the opposition parties and the Muslim organisations and clerics, the scene is now being shifted to the tribunal which has to approve it if the decision is challenged. Doubts are being expressed whether the ban decision will stand the legal test in the tribunal, as the specific charges levelled by the Centre to take the action appear to be full of loopholes.

The Government will have to set up a tribunal to review the ban under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 and the Union Home Ministry will have to prove before it that the ban was the only option left or available to check the anti-national activities of the organisation. If the tribunal, which will have judicial members, finds the evidence insufficient to ban the outfit, it will be lifted.

There are doubts as to whether the ban was preceded by serious government efforts to check the activities of SIMI. Though the government claimed that it was aware of the activities of the outfit earlier, it had failed to initiate action to check them. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, had on record stated several times that he was against the ban on SIMI as the present laws were enough to check its activities.
Several charges levelled by the Union Home Ministry officials and the central government to ban SIMI do not appear to stand the test of scrutiny before the tribunal. The gazette notification banning the outfit had charged it with "working for an international Islamic order". Is it a crime that demanded the ban of the outfit? The religious freedom is enshrined in the Constitution and any religion can engage in proper propaganda. Whether the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was not holding international conferences in and outside India? Then the VHP should have been bracketed with SIMI while taking the ban decision.

The government claims that it has evidence in possession to prove that SIMI was spreading intolerance and hatred towards other religious groups. But if the government applied the same yardstick in banning SIMI on other religious groups, the ban on the outfit should have been preceded by similar actions on the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Recently a senior Union Home Ministry official had accepted that his ministry had evidence showing the unlawful activities of the Bajrang Dal in invoking communal incitement! There are also reports that the Bajrang Dal cadres had received arms training in Lucknow and other places.

Two charges made against the president of SIMI, Shahid Badr, were that he had lionised Osama bin Laden, who was wanted in connection with the attacks on the United States on 11 September, and his opposition to the Indian government's support to the US. The second charge of condemnation of India's support to the US is frivolous and it will not constitute a cognizable offence. If the opposition to the government decision on any issue is considered as an offence, then the democracy itself is in peril.

It was not the first time that the SIMI chief had lionised Osama when he did it last month at a meeting in Bahraich. Badr had only repeated what the SIMI activists had been saying about Osama. In fact, a poem was published in its magazine last year eulogising the Saudi rebel. The SIMI had only reproduced the poem recently and widely distributed it among its cadres. There is a pertinent question as to why the government had failed to take note of the SIMI action then. The government had been claiming for quite some time that Osama had been helping the terrorist outfits, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, to wage proxy war against India. Has the government woken up only when Osama had attacked the US to ban SIMI?

The Home Ministry officials had spoken of the links the SIMI activists had established with some Pan-Islamic organisations. It was alleged that the chief of Palestinian organisation (Hamas) had met the SIMI leaders a few times in India. If that was true, the government itself was to be blamed for this since it had given the visa for Hamas chief to visit India. Moreover, contact with militant outfits may not, per se, become an offence. The government itself had held talks with the leaders of militant organisations in India (North East, Jammu and Kashmir) as well as outside (Amsterdam)! The SIMI is also being 'charged" for protesting against the alleged burning of Koran in Delhi in March this year. Is it an unlawful activity? Not only SIMI, but many Muslim organisations, clerics and public men and women had protested against and condemned the incident. In fact the government should have acted on such a sensitive issue instead of blaming SIMI for protesting against the burning of the holy book.

The Muslim leaders and clerics have not given blanket support to some of the activities of the SIMI cadres. The convener of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, Mr. Zafaryab Jilani, said that barring the statement of the SIMI chief in Bahraich praising Osama, which he condemned, he did not find any activity of the outfit which might be described as subversive or anti-national (to attract the ban). The President of the All India Muslim Forum, Mr Nehalludin, admitted that SIMI had at times indulged in provocative acts. But what about the activities of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, he asked.

This discriminatory ban on SIMI ignoring the similar charges against other outfits like the Bajrang Dal and the VHP had come in for severe condemnation from the opposition parties and the Muslim organisations and clerics. The opposition parties and the Muslim clerics have demanded a ban on these organisations also. They point out that the influence of SIMI is considerably limited compared to the clout of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal to indulge in subversive activities. Thus they found ulterior motives in the ban on SIMI only.
The timing of the ban is also significant since it comes when Uttar Pradesh, the biggest state in the country, is in the election mode. The opposition parties and the clerics link the ban on SIMI with the efforts of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to divide the society on communal lines and get the support of the majority community in the Assembly elections, to be held within the next five months. They said that this explained the hurry with which the government had imposed a ban SIMI.

The BJP is already worried over the alienation of the upper castes from the party in U.P. Coupled with this is the suspicion over the efficacy of the policy of the Chief Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh in giving reservation for the most backward classes within the OBC quota to attract the former to the party. The Government is, however, confident that the tribunal will confirm the ban on SIMI. The Union Minister, Mr. Promod Mahajan, asserts that the ban will stand the legal test "in view of the solid evidence in the possession of the government".
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