My name is Yakub Memon. I am not a terrorist
Samajwadi Party corporator Yakub Memon had to assure voters that he was not a fugitive, when '93 blasts rocked Mumbai; with Tiger Memon's brother's execution drawing near, his phone is ringing off the hook again
After the serial blasts ripped through the city in 1993, a little-known Yakub Memon had fled to Dubai and a better-known Yakub Memon walked through the streets of Bhendi Bazaar, Dawood Ibrahim’s neighbourhood, assuring voters that there was no connection between him and his namesake, who was being touted as one of the architects of the attack.
Samajwadi Party Corporator Yakub Memon. Pic/Sharad Vegda
The tables have turned now, with the then little-known Yakub Memon making national headlines every day because of his probable date with death on July 30 and the other Yakub staying, then as now, just a locally-known face as the corporator of Bhendi Bazaar and its surrounding areas.
What hasn’t changed, however, is that Yakub the corporator still has to, sometimes, reassure concerned callers that he is not Yakub the conspirator.
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A tale of two Memons: Yakub the corporator and (right) Yakub the conspirator.
'I am right here'
This is the story of Corporator Yakub Memon of the Samajwadi Party, who has, for more than 22 years, never moved around without his BMC identity card or some other form of identification because of the way officials deal with him the moment he utters his name. Memon says getting ‘special treatment’ at nakabandis and airports had become a way of life.
After the riots in 1992 and the blasts in March the following year, the atmosphere in the city was tense. “After the bomb blasts, a newspaper gave a headline stating that Yakub Memon had fled the country and was now a fugitive. They had not used his photo and no one knew the other Yakub Memon at the time, while I had been a corporator for one-and-a-half years. People knew me, and suddenly my name was making headlines. They were really worried and I got frantic calls asking me what had happened,” Yakub the corporator told mid-day. He had to make rounds of his constituency to assure people that everything was fine and that the newspapers were talking about the other Yakub Memon, Tiger Memon’s brother, from Mahim.
The corporator had first contested on a Muslim League ticket in 1992, after which he joined the Samajwadi Party in 1995. He is currently serving his third term as corporator from Ward no 220, which comprises Bhendi Bazaar, Mohammed Ali Road and the neighbouring areas.
“During those days, the atmosphere of suspicion was such that the police would barely trust anyone. I remember the riots clearly… hundreds of people were out on the street, pelting stones and torching buses. A very strict curfew was imposed after that and people were even shot for breaching it. The city was tense following the blasts as well,” said Yakub.
“I used to stay in Versova at the time while my constituency was in South Mumbai. Naturally, I had to travel down there every day. There was such heavy nakabandi that my car would be stopped daily and when I would tell my name to the police, they would immediately ask me to step out of the car. They would then conduct a thorough inspection. For other people, they would check the trunk of the car, but in my case, they would check the bonnet too. I had to carry my BMC ID card around all the time,” the corporator said, adding that his passport would also be thoroughly checked when he flew to other countries.
His wife, Shehnaaz, though, said she never suffered because of her husband’s name being the same as that of Tiger Memon’s brother. “We were newly-weds when all this happened. I used to be very scared. But I never suffered directly,” she said.
“Just yesterday (Sunday), I got a call from an old school friend enquiring about my father because of his name. It was a person I wasn’t even in touch with,” said Saba Memon, his daughter.
Now that Yakub the conspirator is back in the news, Yakub the corporator, too, has received quite a few calls already, but it’s a part of his life now and he doesn’t complain. Never once, he says, did he think of changing his name because this is who he is. This is the name he won the BMC elections on.
Yakub contested the Assembly elections from the then Khetwadi constituency in 1991, where he ended up getting the second-highest votes. He then got elected Corporator on a Muslim League ticket in 1992, and on the SP ticket in 1997. He contested the Assembly elections again in 2000, but he stood third this time.
For the next two terms, his civic constituency (Ward No 220) was reserved for women and OBCs. So, he could only contest from there again in 2012, when he ended up winning. The ward includes the Pydhonie, Gulalwadi, JJ Flyover, Maulana Shaukat Ali Road, Dankan Road, Maulana Azad Road, Chor Bazaar, Bohri Mohalla, Nul Bazaar areas.
Yakub, who has been on the BMC’s Standing and Improvement committees in the past, is now on the BEST, Works, Law, District Planning and Development committees.