In the eye of the storm: The rise of AAP’s Amanatullah Khan

AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan speaking to the media during an anti-encroachment drive in the Shaheen Bagh area. | Photo: ANI

48-year-old Amanatullah Khan grew in popularity after he consistently spoke for the Muslim community and has been in the eye of the storm throughout his tenure as a lawmaker, being regularly targetted by the opposition.

Muhammad Raafi |

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NEW DELHI — On May 13, hours after protesting against an “anti-encroachment drive” in south Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar, Delhi police arrested the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Amanatullah Khan. Three days earlier, he had stopped demolitions at Shaheen Bagh and was booked under an FIR. Khan believed these demolitions were part of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s communal politics.

Two-time MLA, Khan, 48, lives in Jamia Nagar and won the Okhla assembly constituency by 71,000 votes. Born in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut, he represents the Okhla constituency in the sixth Delhi Legislative Assembly. In the 2015 Delhi election, Amanatullah defeated the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Braham Singh by a massive margin of over 60,000 votes. 

Before joining the AAP, Khan had contested the 2013 Delhi election, unsuccessfully, on a Lok Jan Shakti Party ticket. 

Khan grew in popularity after he consistently spoke for the Muslim community and has been in the eye of the storm throughout his tenure as a lawmaker, being regularly targetted by the opposition. During the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, BJP’s Delhi unit wrote to the Delhi Police and filed a complaint against Khan for allegedly inciting people during the protests. Several reports claimed that numerous AAP leaders had also written to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for Amanatullah Khan’s removal from party ranks. 

The Delhi Police arrested Khan in July 2016 after a woman alleged that the MLA threatened to kill her when she visited his house with a complaint about power cuts. Months later, he was again arrested over a complaint of sexual harassment by his brother-in-law’s wife. He has also been questioned over an alleged recruitment scam in the Delhi Waqf Board by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB). 

In May 2017, Khan was suspended from the party’s basic membership for attacking Kumar Vishwas after he was forced to resign from AAP’s political affairs committee to make room for Vishwas. Khan accused Vishwas of trying to doctor a split in the AAP at the behest of the BJP. On 20 February 2018, a case was filed against Khan and fellow legislator Prakash Jarwal for assaulting Delhi Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash.

As per Delhi Police Khan has 18 FIRs lodged against him, most of them for obstructing public servants in their duty, and for intimidation, and causing enmity and hurt. A history sheet prepared by police earlier this year shows he has been either acquitted or discharged in 10 of these 18 cases.

A businessman turned politician, he ascended as a minority leader in Okhla, leading to an interest in politics. After losing his first election in 2013 on LJP, Khan shifted to AAP in 2015. In AAP, Khan’s presence has led to a rift between senior party leaders Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia, and AAP founding member Kumar Vishwas.

In 2017, Khan called Vishwas a “BJP agent” who was trying to “split the party”. Speaking to The Indian Express at the time, he said: “This person (Vishwas) invited (NSA) Ajit Doval and RSS workers for his birthday party. How is it that he did not think of AAP MLAs and volunteers then… at a time when police, directed by the BJP, was arresting us and had launched a witch-hunt? Now he is talking about the greater good of the party… I still say he is an agent of the BJP and is trying to break the party.”

In what was seen as a bid to placate Vishwas, Khan was made to step down from AAP’s political affairs committee and was later suspended. His suspension was revoked a few months later.

Khan is now firmly established as a senior leader and a prominent Muslim face in the AAP after five years. The protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Registration Commission in Shaheen Bagh, which comes within his assembly constituency and is close to where he resides, in late 2019 and early 2020 offered Khan the platform he needed to elevate his profile.

Even while the AAP formally distanced itself from the protests, Khan not only supported them but also often participated in them.

During the protests at Madanpur Khadar Khan told reporters that he stood for “everyone,” not only Muslims and that he was “not afraid to go to jail.” 

“Madanpur Khadar is an “unofficially established” regularised colony. The Delhi government is in charge of everything here, including building roads and maintaining sewers. The BJP and MCD are merely here to distribute notifications and collect money from the public,” he said.

He said that “people claim that I am pro-Muslim and work for Muslims, but that is not the case.” “We have a diverse population in Khadar, and the majority of voters favour the BJP. They (the cops) claim that I am breaching the law. Is protesting a crime? I don’t want to wreak havoc on the law and order situation. I am demonstrating in a nonviolent manner.”

“We have never harassed impoverished people,” Khan remarked, accusing the BJP of extortion. “Everyone is terrified, including my family, because they will either have to pay large sums of money to preserve their homes or face bulldozer punishment,” he said.

In the midst of everything, he claimed he couldn’t stay away. “I go to work every day thinking that I can’t sit at home while my neighbourhood is decimated and my people lose their houses and livelihood.”

Muhammad Raafi is a journalist based in New Delhi. He covers politics and human rights. He tweets at @MohammadRaafi