New Delhi: The Congress has launched a concerted campaign, demanding the release of arrested Gorakhpur doctor Kafeel Khan, which includes signature drives, hunger strikes, social media campaigns and visits to dargahs.
Khan was arrested on 29 January for an alleged inflammatory speech made at Aligarh Muslim University’s (AMU) anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests last December and has been in jail since then.
“The police have been arresting Muslims in the state on the pretext of CAA-NRC. We have decided to fight this tooth and nail by protesting against the arrest of doctor Kafeel Khan,” Minnat Rahmani, national coordinator of the Congress’ minority cell, told ThePrint.
The party’s minority cell has already started collecting signatures from various districts of UP Friday, demanding Khan’s release.
Special emphasis will be paid to districts with high Muslim populations, including Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Sambhal, party leaders said.
“We have set up camps (across UP districts) and want to collect around 10,000 signatures from each district and submit them to the governor in the next few weeks,” Shahnawaz Alam, Congress’ UP minority cell chief, told ThePrint.
Alam was himself arrested on 30 June by the UP Police for the December violence in the state, which took place in the aftermath of the anti-CAA protests. He was released on bail on 14 July.
But Alam said the campaign is not to protest against his arrest, or those of other Congress leaders, but aimed purely for Khan’s release. “We are opposition leaders and we will go to jail if we have to. But why is Kafeel Khan, a doctor and social activist in jail?” Alam asked.
Khan was earlier arrested in August 2017 on corruption allegations in Gorakhpur’s BRD hospital’s encephalitis deaths case. He was subsequently released on bail in April 2018 and a departmental inquiry commissioned by the Adityanath government cleared him of the charges in September 2019.
Chadars in dargahs at the behest of Priyanka Gandhi
The idea behind organising the campaign against Khan’s arrest was also to send out a message of ‘solidarity’ to the Muslims in the state.
“Muslims should know that Priyanka ji and Rahul ji stand with them,” Rahmani said.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is the general secretary in-charge of UP (east), made multiple trips across the state last December in the aftermath of the killings that took place following the anti-CAA protests, and then again in January to express her solidarity with the jailed protesters.
Members of the minority cell’s UP unit also plan to reach out to poets, artists and activists in the state to join hands with them and speak against Khan’s arrest. A hunger strike by the party workers to protest against the arrest has also been scheduled later next month.
As part of the party’s campaign and its outreach to the Muslim community, Congress members will also be making visits to dargahs.
“Priyanka ji ke taraf se mazaaro pe chaadarein chadhai jaayengi aur Kafeel ji ke liye dua ki jaayegi (On behalf of Priyanka ji, we will offer ‘chadar’ at dargahs and for Kafeel ji, we will offer prayers) ,” Alam said.
The party also plans to distribute pamphlets about Khan’s arrest.
Many minority Congress leaders jailed
The campaign for Khan’s release comes weeks after the Congress’ UP unit organised a meeting with senior minority party leaders to discuss the spate of arrests of the party’s Muslim leaders in the state.
Congress’ UP president Ajay Kumar Lallu presided over the meeting, which took place on 6 July.
The attendees of the meeting included former Union minister Salman Khurshid, poet-turned-politician Imran Pratapgarhi, Congress’ minority cell chairman Nadeem Javed as well as former chairman Imran Kidwai.
“The idea was to get all of us together to reflect on issues of strategy and articulation for the future,” Khurshid told ThePrint.
The Congress’ efforts come after many of its own leaders have borne the brunt of police arrests in the last few months. Besides Alam, other UP Congress leaders too have faced arrests.
UP Congress leader Sadaf Jafar was arrested in December and kept in police custody for several weeks. After her release in January, she had alleged that she was subjected to police brutality on the jail premises.
She was also given a notice by the UP government this month, demanding compensation worth Rs 64 lakh for the “damage to public property” incurred during the anti-CAA protests.
Besides Jafar, UP vice-president of the party’s student wing National Students’ Union of India, Anas Rehman, was arrested on 12 July in connection with the anti-CAA violence in December. Rehman got bail along with Alam on 14 July.
“Muslims are being targeted in the state. And Muslims who are associated with the Congress are being targeted even more,” said a UP congress committee office-bearer, who didn’t want to be named.