Kanpur Prophet stir: One-sided media reports on ‘temple, enemy property’ now part of chargesheet

Kanpur police earlier linked the protests over remarks against the Prophet to ‘takeover of Hindu land’.

WrittenBy:Akanksha Kumar& Vivek Mishra
Date:
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In his arrest and the accusation of supporting violent protests over the anti-Prophet remarks in Kanpur on June 3, a ghost from the past has come to haunt Mukhtar Baba, his family, and his biryani business.

Over the last few years, the 65-year-old got clean chits from the local administration following complaints that he usurped enemy property and encroached upon a temple that stood upon it in Kanpur’s Beconganj. But in April, what he called his land was again termed enemy property in a union home ministry notice, and Baba moved the Allahabad High Court. 

While a final decision is yet to be arrived at, multiple reports preceding and following Baba’s arrest in June bolstered claims that his biryani business was an encroachment on enemy property and a temple – without seeking the version of his family. And the same allegation has also become part of the 3,000-page chargesheet filed by the Kanpur police special investigation team two months after Baba’s arrest.

The chargesheet carries multiple statements by police personnel as well as a few accused alleging that Baba was involved in the violence in Kanpur with an aim to retain control of the “enemy property” in Beconganj area.

The violence and Baba’s arrest

On June 3, at least 40 people were injured as certain areas in Kanpur saw violence during protests – over remarks against Prophet Muhammad by Nupur Sharma and other BJP leaders.

Six Baba Biryani outlets were sealed on June 28, four days after Baba was arrested. Days before, on June 12, a confessional statement recorded under section 161 of the CrPC had linked Baba’s biryani chain to another protest. Hayat Zafar Hashmi, the prime accused in the violence, said that “during CAA protests, biryani would come from Baba Biryani restaurant”.

“We have been targeted only because we are Muslims. A reputation built over a period of 40 years has been tarnished in just one stroke,” said Baba’s son Mehmood Umar, who has approached the Allahabad High Court for his father’s interim bail. “Baba Biryani was ranked among top brands on leading food delivery apps such as Zomato and Swiggy. If tomorrow, they [the police] find a cold drink or water bottle at a protest site, will they go after companies such as Coca Cola?” he asked. 

The chargesheet

A claim about the temple first appears in the new chargesheet in a statement by Tripurari Pandey, transferred to Jaunpur on July 25 when he was an ACP and a chief investigating officer in the Kanpur SIT.

“Days before the incident, there were reports published in different newspapers that Baba Biryani had encroached upon enemy property, including the Ram Janki temple…it was for this reason, in order to distract from the issue [related to enemy property], Nupur Sharma’s remarks were used as a basis [for protests] so that they can shoot two birds with one arrow,” read Pandey’s statement. 

This two-fold objective, according to Pandey, was to get families to leave the Hindu-dominated Chandeshwar Hata, the epicentre of the violence in June, and shift the focus away from the enemy property. He claimed local residents had tipped him off about Baba’s role.

The unspecified news items, detailed later in this report, are also referred to by other police personnel in their statements.

“These people wanted to retain control over encroached property, including the Ram Janki temple,” stated Nawab Ahmed, Station House Officer, Beconganj police station. Suspended almost a month after the violence for dereliction of duty, Ahmed also alleged Baba’s involvement linking the temple and enemy property as motive.

Ahmed claimed that the prime accused, Hayat Zafar Hashmi, gave a false assurance that he would take back the call to protest. “When Hashmi went ahead with the shutdown, builder Haji Wasi, Mukhtar Baba and their accomplices met and made a plan to use violence to encroach upon the land in Hata.” He alleged that a meeting was held between Baba, his son Mehmood, Haji Wasi, and his manager Hamza and that Mehmood gave Rs 10 lakh to one Afzal to pay “those who participate in violence”. 

Newslaundry had earlier reported on the police theory that “local Muslims were trying to take over Hindu land under the guise of riots”. 

Similar claims are made in the chargesheet by Chamanganj SHO Jainendra Singh Tomar, Beconganj police station driver Mustafa Khan, and Raipurwa SHO Vinay Sharma.

Tomar, who was on VVIP duty on the day of the violence, said, “Mukhtar Ahmed alias Baba Biryani has had links with the D2 gang that has helped him buy land at cheap prices.” 

The D2 gang is a reference to a criminal group that came into existence in Kanpur in 1975. “A hefty amount had been paid for the purpose of causing riots. This is how Baba Biryani has managed to take over certain enemy properties and other property belonging to Hindus and their religious places.”

Similar phraseology appears in the statements of Vinay Sharma and Mustafa Khan.

In a confessional statement on June 22 under 161 of CrPC, Baba said he backed the protests and the D2 gang had a role to play in all the properties he owned.

The temple and the enemy property

Over the last few years, some local groups and individuals have taken Baba to court with allegations of grabbing enemy property. But his family shared two administrative orders from 2019 and 2020, and a police closure report from 2021, giving them a clean chit. 

On October 19, 2019, the Kanpur district magistrate informed the court of the additional city magistrate that the property originally belonged to Lalta Prasad and housed a temple where daily rituals were performed. But Prasad’s grandsons informed the administration that a part of the property was sold to Maula Baksh and the “idols were taken to our new house at Yashoda Nagar in 2002” since the temple was in a “dilapidated condition”. “There is neither a temple nor any idol at property no. 99/14A,” Prasad’s grandson Shivsharan Gupta said in his statement. 

The land was sold to Baba’s mother Hazra Khatoon in 1982 by a Kanpur resident Abid Rahman, who received it through a hibanama, or gift deed, in 1967 by the family of another local, Maula Baksh. Baksh bought a plot in 1947 from the family of Lalta Prasad.

The order by the additional city magistrate noted in 2019 that the “allegations regarding the presence of Ram Janki temple at this property as well as illegal possession by Mukhtar Baba are baseless”.

In December 2020, following yet another complaint, another office of the additional city magistrate, through an administrative order, gave a clean chit to Baba and said the land can’t be enemy property as Rahman was born in Kanpur and his grandparents are also buried in the same city.

In January 2021, Tripurari Pandey, who was then posted as a police circle officer, submitted a response following another complaint that the case “does not require any police intervention”. “Letters with complaints regarding enemy property and that a sweet house has been built over a temple are filed regularly only to trouble Mukhtar Baba.”

Newslaundry has sent a questionnaire to Kanpur police commissioner over the SIT’s allegations about enemy property and the temple. This report will be updated if a response is received.

The MHA notice and the ‘media trial’

On April 18, the union ministry of home affairs issued a notice to Baba under the enemy property rules on behalf of the office of the custodian of enemy property – a central department empowered to appropriate property under the enemy property Act. “It seems the said property was being held and, or, managed on behalf of a Pakistani national between September 10, 1965 to September 26, 1977.” 

The notice sought a reply within 10 days failing which the property would be declared as enemy property, but Baba challenged it in the Allahabad High Court on the grounds that “he was in possession of properties legally”. On May 31, a division bench directed authorities “not to take any coercive action against the petitioner” and that “personal hearing be accorded to the petitioner based on documents”. 

However, in report after report in the media, claims about the enemy property and a temple were bolstered, without any quote from Baba’s family. 

On May 20, in a report titled “brick by brick, a temple was broken to erect biryani restaurant”, Dainik Jagran claimed that the property on which the Ram Janki temple stood belonged to a Pakistani national Abid Rahman. It alleged that shops owned by Hindus were razed to build a non-vegetarian restaurant over 3,600 square feet.

On May 19, IANS carried a similar report which claimed that a Pakistani national had left India in 1962 and sold off the property housing the temple to Baba in 1982. This report was picked up by the Times Now and News18 websites and right-wing portal Hindupost

The momentum refused to die down. Amid the Gyanvapi mosque row, BJP’s Kanpur mayor Pramila Pandey toured Muslim-dominated localities such as Beconganj, Dalel Purwa, Bajariya and Colonelganj on May 28. A Baba Biryani outlet and the contested plot nearby was among her stops. She later told reporters that 124 such properties have been identified where temples have been encroached upon. 

Alok Agnihotri, a local activist associated with People's Union for Civil Liberties, said certain groups have been eyeing the land around Chandeshwar Hata leading up to Baba’s “enemy property” in Beconganj as it is “valuable”. He claimed Baba has been targeted through a media trial. 

Even after Baba’s arrest, the media carried similar items, with both mainstream publications such as the Times of India and right-wing websites such as OpIndia carrying reports without seeking the family’s version. 

“Should we come to Delhi and address a press conference, will they (media) then listen to us,” asked Baba’s son Mehmood as Newslaundry prepared to leave the family’s house in Kanpur. Denying the police allegations about the conspiracy and funding for violence, he asked why no cases were filed against his father if he was linked to the D2 gang. “Yes, we have a beard, does that mean we are criminals?”

Pictures by Akanksha Kumar.

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