By Faisal Fareed
Senior cabinet minister Azam Khan is set to lose some key departments of his portfolio as the Samajwadi Party plans giving more prominence to other Muslim leaders in the coming days.
Besides the ongoing tussle between Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawwad and Azam over postponement of Shia waqf board elections, the development is linked to safeguarding the SP’s core Yadav vote bank after Yadavs in Mainpuri, a traditional parliamentary seat of SP chief Mulayam Singh yadav where bypoll is impending, vented anger against Azam.
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“Yadav ab Hindu rahengey, Azam Khan ko nahin sahengey’— is the slogan echoing in Mainpuri where Tej Pratap Singh, the grand nephew of Mulayam, is making his political debut in the bypoll.
Azam holds the key departments of parliamentary affairs, urban development and poverty alleviation, minority welfare, haj and waqf. He is also the chairman of UP State Haj Committee and Jal Nigam. He was expelled once from the SP in 2009 only to return after Amar Singh’s exit.
“Over-projection” of Azam in the government has not gone well with the Yadavs. Now, some other Muslim leaders like minister of state Kamal Akhter, Haji Riyaz Ahmed, both known Azam baiters, are likely to be promoted while Shakir Ali of Deoria is also expected to be given a push. Former MLA Abbas Ali Zaidi of Rudauli may also be accommodated in the organisation.
Mulayam adopting a softer stance towards Amar Singh was also a step to curtail Azam’s growing influence.
In the recent Lok Sabha polls, SP lost most of the Yadav dominated seats, including Mulayam’s Etawah district.
SP leaders close to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav admit that the Yadav community has distanced itself from the SP due to Azam who was seen as being more powerful than Akhilesh.
Reports of Azam skipping cabinet meetings several times, too, irked the community. “BJP projected that even CM Akhilesh Yadav had to go to Azam’s residence to soothe his ego,” a senior SP functionary said.
Azam did not attend SP’s national executive meet after the Muzaffarnagar riots and offered to resign as in-charge minister of two districts after Akhilesh removed him as in-charge minister from Meerut.
More recently, he kept Akhilesh waiting during three functions. He skipped the award function fo Urdu Academy and Janeshwar Mishra Park inauguration and reached two hours late during a presentation of development works at Kumbh Mela ground. “BJP has been highlighting that Azam is bigger than CM. Things need to be put in order before assembly elections,” an SP leader said.