Aligarh, Mar 18: More than a month after the murder of Dr Iqbal Ghani Khan, a reader in the Aligarh Muslim University’s history department, the whispers have not died down. Whether it’s the campus or the roadside tea shacks, a demand has been gradually gaining momentum: order a CBI inquiry.
For this was no ordinary murder and the popular Dr Khan no ordinary person. Academics, shopkeepers and social organisations are united in their opinion that it could be the culmination of a long tale of land greed scripted by a mafia that cuts across political affiliations.
Beneath the web of probabilities lies a frenzied tale of land greed in Aligarh. ‘‘It’s a frenzy that I simply cannot understand. A CBI inquiry has both its pro and cons. The pro is that there is a lot of talk about the land mafia in Aligarh and at least through this one can get to the bottom of that,’’ says District Magistrate, Aligarh, Sudhir M Bobde.
On February 14, 50-year-old Khan dropped his wife, Zulfia, at the Medical College where she teaches. He was to go to his department from there but never reached. Apparently, he was abducted and taken to Jujjharpur, about 20 km from Aligarh, where his body was found with the skull smashed and three gunshot wounds.
More than a month after the murder, Khan’s white Zen and his laptop have not been traced. On March 2, a Parliamentay team of Eduardo Faleiro, Manoj Bhattacharya, Vijayaraghavan and Prithviraj Chavan went to Aligarh and later submitted a petition to Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani with the request that the investigation be handed over to the CBI. The petition was signed by 40 MPs, including Fali S Nariman, Kuldip Nayyar, K Natwar Singh and Shabana Azmi.
Khan’s murder is the fourth of an AMU teacher in the past 10 years. There is a belief that Khan was killed because he actively opposed encroachments and took up the cause of the poor whenever he could. He was also president of the Riding Club, where a few farmers were claiming some land as theirs which they wanted to sell off to property dealers.
Rajeev Sharma, a friend of Khan’s and the then president of the Riding Club, too, had been killed in 1995. Before that Dr Iqbal Ahmad Khan, a reader in the department of theology was killed.
Ahmad Khan was apparently involved in dubious property deals. But it is Ghani Khan’s murder that has been the biggest puzzle. ‘‘Some people might have wanted to get my brother killed before he became too big a nuisance,’’ says elder brother Idris Ghani Khan.
The police are also exploring a personal property angle. The Khans were involved in litigation with their cousins over ancestral property in Rampur. But the brother doesn’t think that theory holds much water. ‘‘We have been involved in that case for long. And what do they gain by murdering him?’’ he asks.
Idris tries to put the incident in perspective. ‘‘It’s the oil money. Years ago many professors started going to work in West Asia and a lot of money started coming to Aligarh, sending property prices up. And now in Western UP many people want to settle in Aligarh because of the university and they feel its good for their children’s education.
‘‘Can you imagine, land prices on the outskirts of Aligarh are more than those in Gurgaon?’’ he adds.
Khan’s murder has sent shockwaves through the town. He was a hugely popular figure and instrumental in setting up the Janvadi rickshaw-pullers union over 10 years ago. They went on a day’s strike to protest his murder. Khan had tied up with a few chemists to give free medicine to the poor. On campus he was popular with teachers and students alike. He was a Fullbright scholar and had completed his doctorate from the University of London.
Noted historian and colleague Irfan Habib remembers him ‘‘as a most promising historian. We can’t get over his death. It is not an ordinary death.’’ Habib adds that inspite of their requests, the police did not even check Khan’s room in the department till more than a week after his murder. Habib’s 40-year-old son, Faiz, who has a hearing impairment, was a close friend of Khan’s and had taken a number of photographs of him over the past years.
Khan’s elder brother, Idris, remembers him as a man who lived life to the full. ‘‘He would go to Chennai to attend a Carnatic concert. He would play holi in Barsana,’’ he recounts. The poor in Aligarh remember him as the man who got them medicines when they were ill, clothes in winter and intervened with the police on their behalf.
‘‘Whenever we see a white car we think Khan saheb has come,’’ says Jitender Singh, a rickshaw-puller. The DM calls him ‘‘a man of the masses and of the classes’’ and says Aligarh has lost a great man.
Khan’s wife is under shock and son Adil, who studies at Delhi’s St Stephen’s, walks around looking dazed. His daughter, Taran, who is doing her masters at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, is now preparing to return to her studies. ‘‘Over the past month, I have been hearing words like land mafia and property but they really don’t mean anything to me. My first priority is my mother,’’ she says.