Madani cycle enters round two as accused turns ‘victim’ again

For Abdul Nazer Madani, chairman of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), the cycle of terror charges, arrest and public sympathy has entered a second leg.

Taken into custody in 1998 in connection with that year's Coimbatore serial blasts, which were allegedly targeted at BJP leader L K Advani and which killed 58 people, Madani was acquitted in 2007. The acquittal created the image of a martyr who had lost nine years of his life in jail due to a false case.

Madani went on to be arrested again in 2010, this time in connection with the 2008 serial blasts in Bangalore that left two dead and 20 injured. Over the next two years, he went slowly into oblivion. Now, after the Karnataka High Court rejected his plea for bail so that he could take better treatment in Kerala, demands for "Justice for Madani" are being heard once again, from Muslim organisations, from rights acivists and now from across political parties, apparently in view of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Madani himself, who once moved around with a battery of self-styled "black cats", is today a far cry from his former self, the rabble-rouser before and after the Babri Masjid demolition. He has lost sight in one eye due to diabetic retinopathy, while his vision in the other is impaired, says his wife Sufiya. He had lost part of his right leg in a 1992 blast, allegedly triggered by RSS men; now he has lost all sensation in what remains of it. He is confined to a wheelchair and is afflicted with several chronic ailments.

He was not battling such severe health problems the first time he captured the public imagination, particularly that of Muslims in Kerala, as the victim of a travesty of justice.

Even before his image of a terror accused was transformed into one of a victim, he was much sought during those nine years in jail. For the assembly election of 2001, leaders of the Congress-led United Democratic Front had queued up in Coimbatore jail to get his party's support. In 2006, after the Assembly passed a resolution seeking his release, Madani extended support to the CPM-led Left Democratic Front.

By the time he was acquitted in the Coimbatore blasts case, Madani was already a chastened leader. He reinvented himself in Kerala politics as a moderate trying to build a Dalit-minority bank. He was asserting that he had left his past behind when it caught up with him, with the emergence of alleged terror networks built by his one-time associates, including suspected LeT militant Tadiyantavide Nazir. In the probe into the recruitment of Kerala youths for terror in Kashmir, all names that have come up have been of people who once belonged to Madani's PDP. They had allegedly regrouped while the leader was undergoing a makeover.

During those years, too, Madani was much sought-after in Kerala politics despite the terror allegation. The CPM, desperately looking for a Muslim face against Congress ally IUML, found an unofficial partner in Madani in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Later, the CPM would realise that its interactions with Madani were among the factors that led to the Left rout in Kerala in those elections.

On August 17, 2010, as he was being taken to Bangalore by the Karnataka police, an emotional Madani told the media, "The forces that tried to annihilate me and my movement for empowering minorities are behind framing the charges against me. I don't expect that I will come back alive."

Madani's image had changed again, from one of a mainstream politician to a terror accused. As he went out of public focus, many of his senior colleagues too left the PDP. In the 2011 assembly election, leaders of no party felt the need to visit Bangalore jail and seek his support.

Until now. With a year left for the next Lok Sabha elections, political parties see Madani once again as the victim of a human rights violation, an issue that will help strike the right chord with Muslims.

Muslim organisations such as the Popular Front of India and the Jamaat-e-Islami have taken up the issue of alleged rights violations. Last year, intellectuals and human rights activists including Binayak Sen took up the denial of proper treatment for Madani. Several writers, film personalities and social activists joined the campaign, which has recently been taken over by mainstream political parties.

"With the Popular Front of India and the Jamaat-e-Islami playing up the Madani issue, mainstream political parties could not afford to remain mute," says columnist O Abdulla. "Pressure from other Muslim organisation has forced Congress ally IUML to demand humane consideration for Madani."

The IUML, the PDP's political rival, was the first to demand better healthcare for Madani. "There are hundreds of Muslims jailed in India as undertrials. Madani is a glaring example of the serious issue that the government should address," says E T Muhammed Basheer, an IUML MP.

Basheer says his party's political rivalry with Madani remains, but added the kind of human rights violations he is facing cannot be tolerated. "We don't look at Madani from a political viewpoint, but as an example of violation of human rights."

On the sudden surge of support around Madani, BJP state president V Muraleedharan says the Congress and the CPM have taken up the IUML agenda with political motive. "The BJP will oppose any move to meddle with the case pending in court,'' he says.

Date by date

March 31, 1998: Madani is arrested from his house in Kochi following a production warrant from a magistrate's court in Kozhikode in a pending case about provocative speech in 1994. Remanded in judicial custody.

April 9, 1998: Coimbatore police probing the serial blast of February 14, 1998, take him into custody. Blasts was allegedly targeted at L K Advani; 58 killed.

August 1, 2007: Special trial court acquits Madani of terror charges.

October 2008: Four Kerala youths undergoing terror training are killed in Kupwara, Jammu & Kashmir. Some of them, and others later arrested in the case, used to be Madani's associates.

December 17, 2009: Madani's wife Sufiya arrested in connection with the burning of a Tamil Nadu bus in Kochi in 2005. That was during protests against denial of justice to Madani. She is on bail now.

August 17, 2010: Madani is arrested, this time in connection with the serial blasts of Bangalore on July 25, 2008. In Bangalore jail since.

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