The Uttarakhand Police arrested 64-year-old Abdul Malik from Delhi on February 24. Malik, the police claim, mobilised and incited a mob against police and municipal officials in Haldwani’s Banbhoolpura locality on February 8.

Malik, however, has maintained that he was not in Haldwani that day. In a letter to Uttarakhand’s director-general of police, he has claimed that he was in Delhi, Noida and Faridabad on February 7 and February 8, meeting lawyers, politicians and his daughter – more than 250 km away from Haldwani.

Scroll traced his movements. Among those who corroborated Malik’s account is Balbir Punj, a former Member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party. A hotel in Noida, where Malik purportedly stayed on February 7 and February 8, has records of him checking in and checking out. Finally, footage from a security camera confirms that Malik visited a lawyer in Greater Noida at his daughter’s home on the evening of February 8.

Malik is a prominent Haldwani-based businessman who has dabbled in national politics. He has now been dubbed the “mastermind” of the violent clash between the Uttarakhand police and Banbhoolpura residents on February 8, which erupted after the town’s Municipal Corporation demolished a madrasa and a mosque built and managed by Malik.

In a first information report on February 8, the police charged Malik and 15 others with Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, or UAPA, and said that they mobilised a mob and incited them on religious grounds to attack government officials and police personnel present at the site that evening.

“I have no connection with this incident [February 8 violence] and I’m being falsely framed,” Malik said in his letter to the Uttarakhand director-general of police. “But I’m ready to surrender and be part of an impartial investigation.”

Abdul Malik, 64, has been charged with UAPA for his alleged role in the February 8 violence. Photo by Muniba Malik.

The Municipal Corporation had claimed that the religious structures were demolished because they were built illegally on government land, even though a plea to halt the demolition by Malik’s wife, Safia, was being heard in the Uttarakhand High Court.

The police have claimed that stones were pelted, cars were torched and the Banbhoolpura police station was surrounded by the mob during the “pre-planned” violence. The local administration imposed a curfew, an internet shutdown and shoot-on-sight orders on the evening of February 8.

Five civilians died in the violence. At least a hundred police officials were injured, reported ANI.

The case against Malik

The police case against Abdul Malik is spelt out in FIR number 21, filed at the Banbhoolpura police station at 9.30 pm on February 8. The complainant is station house officer Neeraj Bhakuni.

In the FIR, Bhakuni says that local administrators and municipal officers reached Banbhoolpura’s Malik ka Bagicha neighbourhood “to demolish the illegal construction” at 4 pm on February 8. Police personnel were also deployed for their protection.

When the demolition began, a crowd emerged from all sides, alleged Bhakuni. The FIR names 16 men who led this crowd. One of them is Abdul Malik. “They were inciting the crowd and telling them that we will not let the demolition happen,” says the FIR. The men told the crowd that “we run the show here and not the government. Banbhoolpura is our area.”

At this point, the FIR introduces a religious angle. “Inciting the crowd with religious slogans, they turned it extremely aggressive,” it said. “In thousands and from all sides, the crowd began stone-pelting the police and the administration.”

The rest of the FIR gives a descriptive account of the violence. It alleges that the mob attacked the police with the intent to kill, and could not be controlled despite multiple warnings by police officials.

It also lists Malik’s son, Abdul Moeed, as an accused. The 16 men and “other rioters” have been booked under section 15 of the stringent UAPA and 12 sections of the Indian Penal Code, including attempt to murder, rioting and dacoity. The Uttarakhand Prevention of Defacement of Public Property Act, 2003, and the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1932, have also been invoked in the FIR.

Security personnel in Uttarakhand's Haldwani on February 9, a day after violence erupted there. Credit: AFP.

Malik’s defence

In the 16 days between the Haldwani violence and his arrest, Abdul Malik did not release a public statement in his defence or give media interviews to put out his side of the story. However, he did write to Abhinav Kumar, the director general of police in Uttarakhand, copies of which were also shared with Vandana Singh, the district magistrate of Nainital and Parhlad Narayan Meena, the senior superintendent of police in Nainital.

The letter does not carry a date, but according to Malik’s legal aide, who requested not to be identified, it was delivered by hand to the director general of police, the senior superintendent of police and the district magistrate “three to four days” after the violence.

Kumar, the director general of police, told Scroll that “no such letter has been received from Malik, as per our records”. “We are still verifying whether the complaint has been received by another branch – like the police in Nainital district,” he said.

In the letter, Malik says that he is being “falsely framed” and provided a timeline of his location and those he met on February 7 and February 8.

DGP Kumar added: “This is the first time I’m hearing that Malik has some kind of an alibi. We are duly acknowledging it and forwarding the complaint to Nainital district to examine the claims in his complaint. It will be examined on merit and taken up as part of the investigation. We will give it fair consideration and he [Malik] will get an opportunity to be heard.”

Malik’s letter claims that he was in Dehradun “several days before the violence”. On February 7, he travelled to Noida with his driver Zaheer Ahmed. He attended a business meeting at a restaurant in Hotel Radisson Blu in Sector 18 around 12.45 pm. Three hours later, Malik called his lawyer, Sudhir Tiwari, to the restaurant. Around 5 pm, the two went to Sector 31 to meet Vishal Bakshi, an advocate who practises in the Delhi High Court.

Both Bakshi and Tiwari told Scroll that Malik’s account is accurate. “They were here to seek my advice on a writ petition that Mr Malik filed before the Uttarakhand High Court,” said Bakshi. “Broadly I advised them that it was too late for me to interfere at this stage, since the matter was listed for the following day.”

The writ petition in question was filed by Safia Malik on February 6, seeking interim relief against the demolition of the religious structures.

Bakshi said he had met Malik before and had known him through Tiwari.

Tiwari is not just a lawyer. He was the president of the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh’s Pilibhit district between 1998 and 2010. Tiwari is currently a member of the Samajwadi Party.

Tiwari told Scroll that he had known Malik since they were active in Congress party student politics circles in Uttar Pradesh in the 1980s. Malik was then at the Kumaun University in Nainital and Tiwari at Lucknow university. Malik, he added, had contested from the Faridabad parliamentary constituency in Haryana on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket in the 2004 general elections.

On February 7 and 8, Tiwari said he and Malik were together in Noida and Delhi. They were accompanied by Malik’s son, Abdul Mujeeb.

At 7.30 pm, Malik’s letter adds, he and Tiwari had dinner at the Haldiram’s restaurant in Sector 18 in Noida. After this, Malik and his driver drove to Hotel Green Lotus at “H-2, Sector 44, Delhi” opposite the “Amrapali OP Power House”.

Hotel Green Lotus, where Malik stayed on the intervening night of February 7 and 8, 2024. Photo by Ayush Tiwari.

There is no such hotel in Delhi. Malik likely meant Hotel Green Lotus, located at H-2, Sector 44, Noida, across the road from a power station. In the hotel register maintained by the property, there is a mention of an “Abdul” and two others from Uttarakhand who checked in at 10.20 pm on February 7.

Gaurav Kumar Joshi, the receptionist at the hotel, had photos of the two Aadhaar cards submitted by these customers. One of them belongs to Abdul Malik and the other to 21-year-old Abdul Mujeeb.

The hotel register records that the Maliks put up in room number 104 and checked out at 11.20 am on February 8.

The momentous February 8

According to the FIR against Malik, the municipal officials and the police had reached the mosque and madrasa in Haldwani to carry out the demolition around 4 pm on February 8. By 6 pm, a mob had surrounded the Banbhoolpura police station.

Malik’s letter says that he and Tiwari met three politicians and one lawyer in and around Delhi on February 8. The distance between Delhi and Haldwani is more than 250 km, at the least, a six-hour drive.

Around 12.30 pm on February 8, Malik and Tiwari said they met former BJP Rajya Sabha member Balbir Punj at his home in Sector 17 in Noida. Tiwari’s daughter was getting married on March 2 and he shared an invitation with Punj, who gave them a copy of his book Tryst with Ayodhya.

Punj told Scroll that he met Tiwari and Malik around 12 pm on February 8 and the meeting lasted about 45 minutes to an hour. “I have known both of them for about 25 years,” said Punj. “We spoke about mundane things and as they were leaving, Mr Malik did mention that local authorities were trying to demolish a madrasa in Haldwani and that was wrong.”

Tiwari’s account of the meeting is a little different. The purpose of meeting Punj, he said, was to halt the demolition in Haldwani. “We asked Punj sahab to speak to the DM [district magistrate] about the demolition. Our argument was that the structures were old. They should not be demolished until the High Court decided on the writ petition,” he said.

Tiwari added: “Punj sahab texted Ajay Bhatt [Member of Parliament from Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar and the incumbent Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Tourism] and told us to come back at 5 pm.”

In the meantime, Malik says that he and Tiwari visited Congress leader Tariq Anwar at Meena Bagh in Delhi and, around 3 pm, drove to the residence of former Union Minister and BJP politician Sanjay Sinh in the capital’s RK Puram locality to hand him the wedding invitation.

Anwar declined to talk about the meeting. “I don’t have enough information,” he told Scroll. Sinh said that the address mentioned in Malik’s letter is indeed his, and he and Tiwari were associates in the Congress party before 2016, but he did not meet Tiwari or Malik on February 8.

Tiwari said that Anwar might be justified to not comment since the two did not meet in person on February 8 – a detail glossed over in Malik’s letter. “When I reached his office that day, he had left for Bihar. So I simply left behind a wedding invitation at his office,” he said. As for Singh, Tiwari said “he might be shy of admitting that Malik and I met him personally because this is a controversial matter and he is in the BJP”.

Malik’s letter says that he and Tiwari returned to Hotel Radisson Blu in Noida that evening for a meal.

Tiwari said that before the two returned to the hotel, they had stopped at Punj’s residence but his secretary said that the BJP leader was asleep. The duo then set off for the hotel, and on their way, between 5pm and 5.20 pm, Punj called Malik and said that Bhatt, the minister of state, had not responded to his messages and so he would not be able to help.

The two then drove to Apex Golf Avenue in Greater Noida to meet lawyer Lalit Saxena and Saurabh Bisht.

Saxena, an advocate from Bareilly, told Scroll that the address is his daughter’s home and Bisht is his son-in-law.

He said he had retrieved CCTV footage of his house and his parking garage from February 8. It showed Tiwari, Malik and Mujeeb arriving at the address at 7.22 pm and leaving at 7.48 pm, he said.

Saxena said that he had known Tiwari and Malik for more than a decade. “Tiwari ji was here to share an invitation to his daughter’s wedding,” he said. “Malik sahab and his son were with him.”

In his letter, Malik says that he left Greater Noida around 8 pm and drove to his daughter Muniba’s home in Faridabad, where he stayed for the night.

Muniba Malik confirmed this to Scroll. “It was my birthday on February 8 and my father came home that night,” she said. “He was scared because he thought the police might target him because of the violence that evening. He was scared that he could be prosecuted on any charge. He left my home on the morning of February 9.”

On February 22, the Uttarakhand police booked Malik and his wife Safia in a fresh case of fraud and criminal conspiracy.