Lucknow, Oct 1 : On a balmy afternoon, a seemingly tattered poster pasted on a semi plastered wall in a tiny house in Ayodhya changed the fate of an organization that was gaining roots, especially in north India.
The organisation was the Students Islamic Movement of India, popularly known as SIMI.
The poster showed the three tombs of the Babri mosque with a pair of eyes — with tears rolling down — peering out of the outer two tombs.
The caption called for revenge for the demolition of the mosque.
The poster, published in a national daily, put the government machinery on its toes.
The Special Task Force officials began investigating and the story that tumbled out got increasingly frightening.
SIMI activists were making inroads into Muslim youth groups and they were not necessarily students.Some were zardozi workers, some were motor mechanics and even fruit sellers — all semi-educated and fully radicalized.
Their offices – if they may be called that – were housed in the bylanes of various cities with no signage to identify them.
SIMI offices dotted the UP-Nepal border in Lakhimpur Kheri and Bahraich that provided an easy escape to the Himalayan kingdom during police crackdowns.
As facts emerged and a blueprint of an organization that had spread beyond imagination was seen, communication between the then Rajnath Singh government in Lucknow and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in Delhi became fast and furious.
Law enforcing agencies closed in on SIMI hideouts, raids were conducted and activists arrested.
On September 27, 2001, the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre announced a ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, for its ‘anti-national and destabilising activities’, for ‘making controversial remarks questioning the country’s sovereignty and integrity’ and for its ‘links with militant outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen’.
A retired police official who was a part of the crackdown on SIMI, recalled, “The action was taken in utter haste and based on posters and pamphlets found.We did not get time to prove SIMI’s links with international terror outfits and there was little credible evidence against the organisation.”
Most of the SIMI activists who evaded arrest, immediately went underground and continued with their daily chores that included small odd jobs.
A few months later, in February 2022 the Godhra incident took place and SIMI regrouped into units without a name.
Their activities continued but the ‘crusade’ remained largely headless since all identified leaders were already in jail.
In 2006, the Mulayam Singh government attempted to withdraw cases against 16 SIMI activists, including Mohammed Amir.The move was aimed at minority appeasement and also the fact that ‘credible evidence’ was lacking.
Cases registered 12 years ago – before SIMI was banned – were based on flimsy charges and an investigation that has been rapped for loopholes.
However, the courts did not allow withdrawal of cases.
The pamphlets and posters produced by the government to establish the anti-national credentials of the organisation were nothing more than a collection of poetic verses from the Quran, and elsewhere, depicting the ultimate victory of those who believe in Allah after overcoming all obstacles, including bloody ones, coupled with a few pictures.
The notification banning SIMI described its activities on the following points: Firstly, it claimed that SIMI was in close touch with militant outfits and is supporting extremism/militancy in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere.
SIMI supported claims for the secession of a part of the Indian territory from the Union, supports groups fighting for this purpose, and is thus questioning the territorial integrity of India.
SIMI was working for an international Islamic order.
During Ikhwan conferences, the anti-national and militant postures of SIMI clearly manifested in the speeches of the leaders who glorified pan Islamic fundamentalism, used derogatory language for deities of other religions and exhorted Muslims to jihad.
SIMI had published objectionable posters and literature, which were calculated to incite communal feelings and which questioned the territorial integrity of India.
It was involved in engineering communal riots and disruptive activities in various parts of the country.
The notification further said that the activities of SIMI were ‘detrimental to the peace, integrity and maintenance of the secular fabric of Indian society and that it is an unlawful association.’
The ban sparked a political controversy, exposing the government to charges of selective persecution with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
The ham-handed way in which the UP government handled the violence that broke out in Lucknow following the ban, only served to strengthen this impression.
Though the crackdown was peaceful, it left Lucknow on the boil.
Prime Minister Vajpayee’s parliamentary constituency and the capital of Uttar Pradesh witnessed widespread riots.
The police opened fire on protesting Muslims, killing four and injuring many.Curfew was clamped in several areas.
Although the situation was brought under control without further loss of life, the episode took an ugly political turn, with the ruling BJP and the Opposition parties accusing each other of trying to gain political mileage.
Following the ban, there was a nationwide swoop on SIMI activists, and hundreds of them, including its president Shahid Badr Falahi, were arrested from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.
SIMI offices across the country were sealed and ‘incriminating’ documents seized.
At that time, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party claimed that the ban was meant to divide the people along communal lines so that the BJP could consolidate its Hindu vote bank.
“It is a move to divert people’s attention from the government’s failures,” SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav had stated.
The BSP had said that the fact that other political parties were not taken into confidence before the ban was slapped, smacked of a conspiracy.
The Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) echoed the same opinion.
The Congress, meanwhile, had described the ban as ‘ill-timed in view of the vitiating international situation’ and demanded a similar ban on the Sangh Parivar affiliates.
The ban was lifted in August 2008 by a special tribunal, but was reinstated by K.G.Balakrishnan, then Chief Justice, on 6 August 2008 on national security grounds.
Incidentally, SIMI was originally found in Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh in 1977.
The stated mission of SIMI was the ‘liberation of India’ by converting it to an Islamic land.
While SIMI maintained a comparatively low profile initially, it was only after the demolition of the Babri mosque that the organization began recruiting and radicalizing Muslim youth.
A senior police official of the Special Task Force says, “Even after the ban, SIMI activities did not stop.Its members assumed different names and identities that kept changing frequently.
Their outfits would appear and disappear with an alarming frequency but their activities continued discreetly.SIMI supporters had obviously become clever enough to evade the police net.”
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