Politics

Meet Mahagathbandhan Candidate From Meerut Haji Yakub Qureshi, Who Wanted To Award Charlie Hebdo Killers

Haji Yakub Qureshi.
Snapshot
  • Thanks to a highly unpopular sitting MP and the lack of the arch-rival, a person who was rewarding Al Qaeda terrorists who killed 12 people with Rs 51 crore may become Meerut’s next MP.

In 2005, a Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten published cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad. The act led to outrage among the Muslims all over the world. There were protests, demonstrations, and even attacks on Western diplomatic missions, Christian symbols and their places of worship, claiming a number of lives.

Amidst this, a political leader and businessman from Meerut announced a reward of Rs 51 crore for beheading the cartoonists who made those cartoons for the Danish paper.

At the same time, as an act of journalistic solidarity and in support of freedom of expression, publications around the world republished the cartoons depicting the Prophet. One of the publications was Charlie Hebdo, which is based in France, a country that believes in the Voltarian principle of ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’.

On 7 January 2015, two brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, armed with multiple automatic and semi-automatic weapons, barged into the offices of Charlie Hebdo and went on a killing spree in which they murdered 12 people, including eight journalists. The two brothers belonged to Al Qaeda and their attack on the newspaper was motivated by the French weekly’s depiction of the Prophet.

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A day after the terrorist attack, the same politician and businessman from Meerut repeated his pledge. He was quoted in the media as saying, “The cartoonist who drew the cartoon in past has died but I am willing to reward the current killers [of Charlie Hebdo journalists] with Rs 51 crore.”

This politician and businessman is today the mahagathbandhan candidate for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections for Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut-Hapur seat.

Haji Yakub Qureshi, a Bahujan Samaj Party leader, is a former mayor of Meerut and minister in the Uttar Pradesh cabinet. He is up against Bharatiya Janata Party’s sitting Member of Parliament, Rajendra Agrawal, in an uphill battle.

Haji Yakub Qureshi speaking at a rally. Haji Yakub Qureshi speaking at a rally.

The seat has about 34 per cent Muslim votes. The caste and religion breakup of the votes is this: 2-2.5 lakh Baniya votes, 60,000 Thakur, 1.5 lakh Brahmin, 1 lakh Jat votes, 90,000 Gurjar, 3 lakh Dalit and about 5.5 lakh Muslim votes.

Last week on 28 March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi targeted Qureshi in his rally in Meerut when he said, “I have been told that in Meerut, the leaders of opposition have even fielded candidates who have, in the past, announced crores for terrorists. These are all ‘maha-milawati’ (adulterated) people, and can go to any level.”

Yakub Qureshi has been making headlines for over a decade now, much of which has been for the wrong reasons. Other than declaring to reward terrorists, he has made headlines for publicly thrashing an on-duty policeman and assaulting activists. Not just Qureshi, but his children have made headlines as well: while one of his sons has been in news for allegedly grabbing agricultural land in Meerut, his daughter has been reported to have assaulted students and teachers in a prominent city school, the video of which went viral at the time.

It’s said that the muscle to cover up such acts comes from his meat trade.

Qureshi is a veteran of the meat trade and runs Al Fahim Meatex Private Limited, which is among the largest Indian exporters of buffalo meat. The company has long been at odds with the law. It was just this February that his company’s unit at Meerut’s Kharkhauda was partially sealed by the Meerut Development Authority. The unit has had demolition orders since 2017.

Meerut is among the largest centres of meat trade in India, and much of the city’s meat industry is based in the Kharkhauda region. A number of slaughterhouses and meat processing plants dot the many villages in the region, and villagers from these villages have long accused these plants of contaminating their soil and groundwater through their effluents. Qureshi’s Al Fahim’s unit has particularly drawn ire as its plant is among the largest and most well known. It has been alleged that these plants, including Qureshi’s, pump their untreated waste underground flouting all norms.

Villagers and some activists have lately been raising this aspect of the meat processing industry. The last few months have seen sealings and closures of some units as well, but how much is the issue of illegal meat plants going to affect the voters’ behaviour? The opinion is divided.

An activist, Ravinder Gurjar, has lately been at the fore of the movement against the unregulated meat processing industry. He has taken on Yakub Qureshi on numerous occasions for his meat plant that he says is functioning without required clearances and is polluting the region. Gurjar is also the BJP’s convener for the Meerut-Hapur Lok Sabha seat, and he believes he has mobilised people affected by the pollution caused by the unregulated meat industry. (Swarajya has reported about it earlier).

Not everyone agrees with him.

An environmental activist from Meerut, who did not wish to be named, said that the environmental contamination is definitely an issue but not one that would affect the upcoming general election.

“People are going to vote in the name of the leader, such as Modi in case of the BJP and Mayawati in case of the BSP, and all these activists who have raised the issue [of the meat processing industry] in the run-up to the elections have done so to build their profiles either for the Vidhan Sabha elections or gram panchayat elections to be held later on,’ the activist told Swarajya.

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While the meat processing industry and Qureshi’s association with it may not electorally matter much today, it was, at one point, the centre of an intense political face-off between two arch-rivals — Qureshi and the Samajwadi Party strongman Azam Khan.

Qureshi had long been the contractor of the Meerut Municipal Corporation’s infamous kamela (Meat Factory) on Hapur Road, which has long been an electoral issue since the 1980s.

The kamela had been blamed in a government study as the prime cause for the bacterial contamination in the Kali river that passes through Meerut. Collectively, the kamela and the meat industry in Kharkhauda are blamed for the contamination of the entire ecosystem in the area and deaths of hundreds out of numerous water-borne diseases.

The kamela was eventually demolished and shifted out of the city out of the bad blood between Qureshi and Azam Khan. There is no such bad blood at work now as the BSP and the SP are now contesting elections as allies and not arch-rivals. In the absence of any rivalry from the SP, Qureshi’s chances have never been this strong.

The unpopularity of the sitting MP adds to this. A number of people say that Rajendra Agrawal will get votes only in the name of Modi, but some say that even Modi may not be enough to get him votes. Furthermore, Qureshi has an image of helping out people that Agrawal does not.

A person who runs a group of colleges in the city told this correspondent that some clearances were due for one of their colleges with the Meerut Development Authority a while ago and the officials had demanded a hefty sum for them. The person went to Rajendra Agrawal's office but was told to “cooperate” with the officials as “they [officials] also have expenses and it was not too much for the job”.

“Then I went to Qureshi and he [Qureshi] called the official in front of me and reprimanded him. He told him to get the work done within a day. My work was done by the evening,” the person said. “Tell me, who is better for me?”

The person is incidentally a BJP functionary who frequently hosts party events.

To add to this, there has also been internal chaos in the BJP regarding Rajendra Agrawal’s candidacy. Vinit Sharada, who is now a subject of memes thanks to his campaigning, was in open rebellion against him not long ago.

Also, the Congress has cunningly fielded a Vaishya candidate, Harendra Agarwal, from the Meerut-Hapur seat, who is slated to take away a chunk of votes that might have otherwise gone to Rajendra Agrawal, particularly from the Vaishya community. This is bound to aid Qureshi, who is already confident of most of the Muslim and Dalit votes in the constituency. Harendra Agarwal is the son of former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Babu Banarasi Das.

Thus, thanks to a highly unpopular sitting MP and the lack of the arch-rival, a person who was rewarding Al Qaeda terrorists who killed 12 people with Rs 51 crore may just be Meerut’s next MP.

This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on issues and constituencies the old media largely refuses to engage. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as Rs 2,999. Click here for more details.

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