On May 24, a Rampur Court acquitted Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Azam Khan in the 2019 hate speech case which led to his disqualification from his Uttar Pradesh Assembly seat last year. Azam Khan’s disqualification resulted in a by-poll, which was won by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Akash Saxena.
The Additional District and Sessions Judge Amitveer Singh set aside Rampur’s Special MP/MLA Court’s order dated October 22, 2022, which convicted and sentenced Azam Khan to three years imprisonment. Furthermore, it was reported that the UP Police’s records show that over 83 cases have been registered against Azam Khan and 41 cases against his son, Abdullah Azam Khan since BJP came to power in 2017.
Azam Khan’s Conviction in the 2008 Chhajlet Case
It is pertinent to note that the former SP MLA could continue to remain disqualified in the operation of the Representation of People Act, 1950, as his second conviction still persists. On February 13, Azam Khan was convicted in the 2008 Chhajlet case, along with his son and SP leader Abdullah Azam Khan, for blocking traffic and staging a protest on a highway after their vehicle was stopped for checking by the police in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh.
The incident occurred in the wake of a terror attack on a CRPF camp in the neighbouring Rampur District, in which seven jawans and a rickshaw puller were killed on December 31, 2007. The FIR against the SP leaders was lodged at the Chhajlait police station in 2008.
The SP leader’s vehicle was stopped for having black-tinted windows. Azam Khan’s son, Abdullah Azam Khan, was driving the car and failed to produce the vehicle’s documents when asked to do so by the police. Azam Khan, seated at the back, stepped out of the vehicle and escalated the altercation with the police. Other SP members reached the spot, further escalating the confrontation and blocking the road in protest.
The Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Smita Goswami sentenced the SP leader Azam Khan and his son, Abdullah Azam Khan, to two years imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 3000/- on each of them. The father-son duo later filed a bail application which was granted to them by the Court. The duo was released after submitting the required surety.
The Special Court convicted the father-son duo under Indian Penal Code’s section 341 (wrongful restraint) and section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge from his duty) and other provisions. The SP leaders have now been granted bail after the verdict. The Special Court acquitted seven other accused in this case citing lack of evidence, including SP MLA from Amroha, Mehboob Ali, and former MLAs Haqi Ikram Qureshi and Naim-ul-Hasan.
It is pertinent to note that Azam Khan’s son, Abdullah Azam Khan, was an MLA from the Suar constituency when he was convicted by the Special Court. Thereafter, Abdullah Azam Khan’s seat was declared vacant with effect from February 13, in light of the Representation of People Act, 1950.
Representation of People Act, 1950
It is pertinent to note that u/s 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, “a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for no less than two years shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a period of six years since his release.”
In 2013, the Congress-led UPA Government introduced the Representation of the People (Second Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013 in an attempt to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Section 8(4) of the Act deferred a sentenced representative’s conviction by 3 months to allow them to appeal before a higher court and prevent disqualification. The UPA Government’s amendment proposed that the convicted representatives would not be disqualified immediately after conviction.
On September 24, 2013, the UPA Government attempted to bring the amendment into effect as an Ordinance before the verdict in Congress ally and RJD supremo Lalu Yadav’s fodder scam case. However, Rahul Gandhi called the Ordinance “complete nonsense that should be torn up and thrown away,” and tore the Ordinance during the press conference. Thereafter, the UPA Government withdrew the Ordinance and the Bill.