Volume 15-10 No:178
Even a year after three Muslim finance companies fled Bhopal with about Rs 50 crore collected from Muslims in the name of Halal and interest-free business, the people who were duped have not lost hopes. But for many investors life has changed drastically as they invested their lifetime savings.
Raees Ahmed Ansari put all the money he had saved over a lifetime in a company called Al Fahad, said to be named after Saudi King Fahd. He left no effort to recover the money that, he says, was taken from him by invoking the name of Islam. His case is not a unique one. Almost 15,000 Muslim families were duped of Rs. 50 crore by three companies that acted somewhat like a bank with a difference. Islam does not allow interest payment, so they promised sharing with depositors the profits from their business investments.
“I put all my life’s savings, my provident fund, golden handshake, personal savings, everything I had (which totalled Rs 8.45 lakh), and they vanished without a trace,” said Ansari, a former employee of Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. He opted for voluntary retirement from the public sector company and deposited the money in Al Fahad. Al Fahad was paying an annual dividend of an incredible 30, even 40, per cent initially, but then suddenly they came to know that the office of the firm has been closed. Similar was the fate of the people who deposited in two other companies - Al Falah and Alround Tejarati.
“They had no government permission or licence. They simply convinced us in the name of Islam and we trusted them,” Ansari said.
Police made many arrests including two prominent ones, Masood Ahmed Siddiqui, a religious leader, for being an agent of Al Fahd, and Col. M. F. Jaman, for having connections with the same company. But both are now out on bail.
Ansari was advised by a religious leader to invest his money in Al Fahd. “He suggested me that in Islam receiving, money through bank interest is haram. If I deposit my money in Al Fahad, the company would, in turn, invest in business and I would be treated as a partner. My earnings then would be Halal,” Ansari said. This could perhaps be the only instance where religion appears to have been used to gain people’s trust.
Habib Rehan, is one of the religious leaders who found himself being defrauded. He had admitted to having advised people to invest their money in these companies.
Al Fahad’s managing director, Hamud Siddiqui, had been absconding since January 2000. He had floated the company with his brother Jawad, but they parted after about two years. Jawad then started Al Falah. At the same time - Alround Tijarati - appeared and is estimated to have collected investments of about Rs 8 crore. Since then, nothing has been heard of any of them.
“This is a difficult fight,” feels Yunus, owner of a scooter workshop whose father invested more than Rs. six lakhs in two of these companies. “ We are fighting for it and Inshallah (Allah willing), we would see that the people responsible for this are punished,” he added.
Mumbai Aman Committee, All-India Milli Council and Lawyers Legal Aid Committee, the litigants in the case filed before the Supreme Court, have alleged that the Democratic Front (DF) government is not serious about implementing the Srikrishna Commission on the communal riots that shook Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993.
“The Maharashtra state has declared time and again that it has fulfilled its election promise of implementing the Srikrishna Commission report, but those who have been closely involved with the Supreme Court litigation feel that the Government is misguiding the public,” said representatives of the three organisations while speaking to Islamic Voice.
They blamed the government on three counts. The government has not nullified the action taken report (ATR) filed by the erstwhile Shiv Sena-BJP government. It has initiated legal action against only nine of the 31 cops indicted by the report; and it has in its tenure given compensation to families of only three of the 167 persons missing after the riots.
The organisations charged that the manner in which the special task force (STF) is acting, reflects the government’s intention of not respecting the findings of the Commission. “The STF sits in judgment over the Commission’s report and has taken pains to nullify the findings of the report. The STF is clearly not the appellate authority,” they said.
Concurring, Justice Hosbet Suresh charges the government with “indifference” and said, “the Government should have, first and foremost, disassociated itself from the ATR”. Although the present state government has filed four of the six affidavits before the Supreme Court, the latest one in July 2001, none of them have rejected the ATR.
The ATR filed by the Sena-BJP government had rejected the Commission’s findings as “biased” and criticised Justice B. N. Srikrishna for being “pro-Muslim”. “Incidentally, a copy of the ATR was burnt by the Congress party, which is now part of the government, on the day it was tabled in the assembly,” pointed out Yusuf Muchhalla of the Lawyers Legal Aid Committee.
The organisations demanded that the ATR should be removed from the official archives. “Data from the government archives must remain unpolluted for it is the source of information for the coming generations,” said Muchhalla.
On the indictment of cops, the organisations rue the fact that the government had only initiated legal action against nine of the 31 police officers hauled up by the Commission. “Of these, only former police commissioner R.D. Tyagi was arrested, and today, he too is out on bail, thanks to the government’s unwillingness to oppose the anticipatory bail applications of his 15 co-accused,” pointed out the speakers at the press conference.
The organisations also highlighted the fact that another indicted officer; Nikhil Kapse would only face a departmental inquiry, although the Srikrishna Commission held him responsible for “unjustified firing.”
Regarding compensation for families of missing persons, Muchhalla said that “though legally anyone missing for seven years is considered dead, the government continues to treat the missing as just missing and insists on their heirs signing indemnity bonds with a stamp and registration fee of Rs 6,200 each.” The government also demands an NOC from the police station concerned. “Why are they asking for these documents? No such requirements are called for,” said Muchhalla.
The Muslim League, with no electoral presence worth the name in Maharashtra politics, has decided to nominate ten TADA detenus facing trial for alleged involvement in the March 12, 1993 serial blasts in the city, for the Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections next year. The party justified the decision saying as Muslims they were victimised despite being innocent.
The Muslim League wants to put up such TADA detenus - six on bail and four in custody - for the polls. "Why not? How different is their case from the other illustrious people occupying political posts despite their involvement in, for instance, the Babri Masjid demolition?"
Given the long-standing grievance that innocent Muslims were made "sacrificial goats"' in the blasts case trial by a callous police force, this platform may pay dividends in some predominantly Muslim pockets.
The Muslim League's announcement of fielding 115 candidates, including TADA detenus, for the elections due in February 2002, has come as a surprise. Apparently, the party plans to use the alleged discrimination against Muslims as a poll issue.
According to Mohd. Faruque Azam, president of the Muslim League's Mumbai unit, those under detention "have already wasted eight years in jail without being convicted and their lives and families have been destroyed". Those on bail, sources in the Muslim League suggest, live fearing attacks from the pro- Hindu Chota Rajan gang.
Shaikh Aziz Ahmed, one of the blasts accused who has been given a ticket by the Muslim League, was also appointed vice-president of the state party yesterday evening. He said, "Contesting elections is our constitutional right. If Jayalalitha (the Tamil Nadu chief minister) can grab office despite her court convictions, then why can't we, who are only accused of crimes we never committed, and were framed?"
Meanwhile, a member of the Special Task Force of the Central Bureau of Investigation, involved in the prosecution of the blasts case, said he is unruffled by the development. "You never know, by February we may have a verdict and some of the candidates may be convicted, leaving their ambitions unrealised," he said.
Pointing out that "BJP had several elected candidates who were facing charges in various cases", Azam said, "If they can contest elections why can't we field such candidates".
"Those whose clothes are splattered with dirt should not point fingers at others", Azam said. "When people like Hitendra Thakur, Pappu Kalani, Arun Gawli can contest elections why not the bomb blast accused", he asked.
Describing the bomb blast accused as "innocent and hapless victims of circumstances", he claimed that that UP legislature had 34 candidates who were history sheeters but yet managed to secure a seat.
Replying to a query about objections that could be raised by the election commission to fielding of bomb blast accused, Azam said his party would move to higher courts challenging such an objection on the ground that recently a party chief had managed to become the chief minister of a state despite being charged of various offences in several cases. Meanwhile, BJP has decided to firmly oppose the Muslim League if it decides to field bomb blast accused in the polls.
City Congress President Murli Deora said that, "We condemn this decision with the contempt it deserves." The decision is likely to create communal tension in the city. Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh dismissed this by stating that Mumbaikars were too smart to fall into this "communal trap".
Gurunath Kulkarni, spokesperson of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is even more severe in his criticism of the League's "yet another publicity stunt". "The League has no political existence in the city. Hence we are not terribly concerned about their decisions," he says. Mr Kulkarni even questions Azam's credentials. "He has changed parties in the past and is capable of doing anything for publicity," he alleges.
The decision to field persons charged with an offence for elections is morally and politically wrong. Until their names are not cleared of the charges, they should not be allowed to contest elections. Otherwise, it amounts to betrayal of public confidence in democracy and the process of elections.