Decks cleared for Rampur by-poll as court rejects Azam Khan’s plea

District and Session Judge of Rampur dismissed the application of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan wherein he had prayed to stay the operation of orders of conviction passed by the trial court during the pendency of appeal against it before the session court, writes Mudit Mathur

On the directive of Supreme Court, the District and Session Judge of Rampur heard and dismissed the application of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan wherein he prayed to stay the operation of orders of conviction passed by the trial court during the pendency of appeal against it before the session court. The session court order paved the way for holding by-election in Rampur assembly constituency that was declared vacant in view of the disqualification of Azam Khan, who represented this constituency nine times and has been holding the fort since 1980.

In case, if his conviction continues, then he will be debarred from contesting elections for further six year after the completion of sentence, which would be virtually an end ofpolitical journey of 74 years old Azam Khan. TheMP-MLA / ACJM(First) Court of Rampur convicted him on October 27 for making derogatory indecent comments against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister, district magistrate, Anjaneya K. Singh and his team of officers in Milak during electioneering of the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019, and sentenced him to three years of imprisonment with penalty of Rs. 6,000.

The prosecution machinery of the Yogi Adityanath government was proactively involved and geared up from Delhi to Lucknow to oppose stay application before Rampur Session Judge. Additional Advocate General of UP government in Supreme Court, Garima Prasad, specially came to Rampur to appear for the state. She was assisted by Anil Pratap Singh, Joint Director prosecution S.P. Pandey and prosecuting officer Amarnath Tiwari. Former Additional Advocate General Imranullha Khan and Supreme Court advocate Zubair Ahmed Khan argued for Azam Khan.

Azam Khan was convicted under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between two groups), 505 (statement conducing to public mischief) of IPC and section 125 of the Representation of People Act 1951. An FIR was lodged against him on April 9, 2019, after the returning officer took cognizance of the matter after a report was placed before him in this regard. After being convicted, Azam Khan was disqualified from the Uttar Pradesh Assembly.

Earlier a day before, the Supreme Court intervened into the matter of disqualification of Samajwadi Party leader Mohammad Azam Khan which revealed undue haste, who just in a flicker of moment lost his membership of state assembly soon after a trial court convicted him for the offence of inflammatory, socially divisive hate speech, inciting religious feeling s– damaging peace and tranquillity. The next very day on 28 October, state assembly declared his Rampur seat vacant and with the same lightning speed, the election commission of India acted to hold by-election there.

The apex court was critical of the way it dealt differently with BJP legislature Vikram Saini from Khatauli constituency, who too stood disqualified on 11October. But he was declared disqualified only after Azam Khan counsel Javedur Rahman brought it on the records – filing a writ petition finding to be remediless once process of election begins with the issuance of notification for holding by-election.

Senior Advocate P Chidambaram, appearing for Khan, submitted before the bench of Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Hima Kohli and Justice JB Pardiwala that the declaration of the Rampur seat as vacant was a politically motivated decision. On November 5, 2022, the Election Commission of India issued a press release declaring the schedule for by-elections in five assembly constituencies across various states including the 37-Rampur Assembly Constituency. The Gazette notification is due to be issued on 10 November 2022.

Chidambaram also informed the bench that Khan’s appeal against the conviction and his application for a stay of conviction is scheduled for hearing on November 15, however, in the meantime, the ECI would notify the by-elections and this would cause irreparable loss to Khan.

In order to enable the petitioner to have an opportunity to move the Sessions Court to apply for stay of the conviction, the apex court directed that the Additional Sessions Judge, Rampur before whom the appeal has been filed shall pre-pone the hearing of the application for stay of conviction and take it up peremptorily on 10 November 2022 and the application for stay of conviction shall be disposed of by the Additional Sessions Judge on the same day on 10 November 2022.

The top court further directed that the Gazette notification for declaring the election schedule for the 37-Rampur Assembly Constituency may be issued on or after 11 November2022 depending upon the outcome of the application for stay of conviction. Now the chief election officer will issue notification for Rampur by-election and nominations shall be accepted from 12 November till 18th November, scrutiny on 19 November, withdrawal till 21 November and poll shall be held on December 5th and counting on 8th December.

Though Samajwadi Party is in a hurry to field a Muslim face from Rampur but it would be difficult to ignore Azam Khan’s political influence on the masses. The Rampur by-election will not be a cakewalk for ruling BJP or Congress though it was traditionally held by Congress before the emergence of Azam Khan on the political scene of the district.