Rajat Sharma

Lucknow mall incident: A conspiracy to defame a friend of India tycoon from UAE

akb2711In a shocking incident in India’s largest shopping mall opened in Lucknow, a group of men abruptly came to the mall, offered namaaz prayer, made video of the prayer and circulated it on social media before leaving the place. They had not come for purchase or window shopping. Their aim was to post the video on social media and create communal tension.

On Friday, Lucknow police filed an FIR following complaint from the mall management, against unknown persons and slapped charges under various sections of Indian Penal Code, viz. Sec 295A (deliberate and malicious intention of outraging religious feelings), Sec 153A (promoting enmity on grounds of religion), Sec 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint) and Sec 505 (statements aimed at creating public mischief).

After the video of namaaz being offered inside an open space in the mall went viral on social media, Hindu right-wing groups like Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha threatened to recite Hanuman Chalisa and Sunder Kand inside the mall, in retaliation. The outfit filed a complaint against the UAE-based Lulu group, owner of the mall, saying that this was in violation of the state government’s decision not to allow namaaz prayer in public places. The leaders of Hindu outfit were called for talks by the management and they later withdrew their threat to recite Hanuman Chalisa.

The owner of UAE’s largest business conglomerate, Lulu group, is M.A. Yusuff Ali, an Indian businessman from Thrissur, Kerala. There were clear indications that the offering of namaaz was done deliberately to defame Yusuff Ali and his shopping mall. Lucknow police said, the act appears to have been done deliberately in order to create communal tension.

The question is: who will benefit by defaming the business group? Muslims in India should pride themselves over the fact that India’s largest shopping mall has been built by an Indian Muslim tycoon, one of the top businessmen in UAE, who has given jobs to thousands of Indians in the Gulf.

The Lulu Shopping Mall was inaugurated by UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath on July 10. It is India’s largest shopping mall. Two days later, on July 13, a video of some people offering namaaz inside the mall became viral. There were protests in Lucknow.

India TV correspondent Vishal Pratap Singh reported that when Lucknow police checked CCTV footage, the group that had offered namaaz, first appeared at the entry gate. The group proceeded straight to the escalator. Most of the shops were on the first floor, but the group did not go to the first floor.

All the seven persons in the group went to the second floor, where there is a food court and a sports area for kids along with a few electronic goods showrooms. They went straight to a vacant spot near an electronic goods showroom, sat down to offer namaaz prayers, made video of the same, and returned to the ground floor and went out of the mall campus. The cctv footage clearly shows that the intention of the group was not to go for shopping but for deliberating making a video of namaaz prayer.

Police is now trying to identify the seven persons and the man who made the video of the namaaz prayer. Police is also checking the origin of the video trail, that later went viral, on social media.

Sameer Verma, general manager of the mall, said, notices have now been displayed prominently in the mall saying offering of religious prayers inside the mall is not allowed. Verma said, those who offered namaaz were not employees of the mall. “We respect all religions and will follow the government’s policy of not allowing religious prayers in public places”, he added.

Since the controversy was created within 48 hours of the opening mall, there is bound to be suspicion. The matter is not straight as it appears. India’s largest Lulu shopping mall is spread over 22 lakh sq feet area, and was built at a cost of Rs 2000 crore. The vast food court has an area where nearly 1,500 customers can sit and have food. The mall has a parking facility for nearly 3,000 cars and there are 11 cine screens. It was built within record time.

M.A. Yusuff Ali, the Kerala-born business tycoon who owns Lulu group, was in retail business with his uncle when he was in his teens. He went to Abu Dhabi and expanded his business. Forbes magazine in 2021 described Yusuff Ali as the world’s 38th richest tycoon.

The Lulu group has business spread in 22 countries. More than 57,000 people work in this group. One of the top tycoons of United Arab Emirates, Yusuff Ali was given the highest honour by the Abu Dhabi government. He has been honoured with Padma Shri and Pravasi Bharatiya award.

On June 4 this year, at the UP investors’ summit in Lucknow, Yusuff Ali promised to invest Rs 2,500 crore in the state. He has plans to build shopping malls in Varanasi and Prayagraj too. His group has shopping malls in Kochi, Bengaluru and Thurvananthapuram. On July 10, when CM Yogi Adityanath inaugurated the Lucknow mall, Yusuff Ali said, Yogi has boosted investors’ confidence in UP by providing ease of business atmosphere.

Yusuff Ali is the vice-president of Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Modi, who has been striving to improve friendly relations with UAE, has already visited the Emirates four times.

During his meetings with the PM, Yusuff Ali showed interest in investing more in India. During his meetings with Modi, Yusuff Ali praised Rupay Card, and promised to promote this card in those countries where his Lulu group has business. Yusuff Ali has alsho shown interest in investing in Kashmir.

I feel, the controversy over namaaz prayer and Sunder Kaand recital in Lucknow mall was created deliberately to incite Hindu-Muslim passions. The aim was also to target and defame Yusuff Ali and his group. Yusuff Ali was targeted because he is an avowed fan of Narendra Modi.

Yusuff Ali’s Lulu group runs hyper markets and shopping malls in 22 countries. As an Indian-born business tycoon, he has given jobs to the largest number of Indians abroad. Whenever Modi visited the UAE, Yusuff Ali made it a point to meet the PM. In June this year, during the Investors Summit in Lucknow, he showed models of shopping malls that his group plans to build in Varanasi and Prayagraj.

Modi has praised Yusuff Ali for being in the frontline of NRI businessmen who are investing money in India. The aim of deliberately defaming Yusuff Ali and his group on social media was to tarnish his image on religious grounds.

Had UP police not taken action in time, an unnecessary controversy would have been created. Yusuff Ali is not only a tycoon. He has emerged as a useful link for India to forge strong bonds of friendship with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

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