Updated: April 27, 2022 8:19:48 am
A little over a month after the BJP made targeted attacks on him, making any party including his own wary of association with him, Azam Khan is fast turning out to be the most coveted leader in Uttar Pradesh.
After RLD leader Jayant Chaudhary and Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party leader Shivpal Singh Yadav visited him in prison, Azam has now received a Congress guest, and, the biggest surprise of all, praise from the BJP. Azam, who has been in prison for over two years now in connection with 81 cases, has only turned away one visitor so far: the Samajwadi Party’s Ravidas Mehrotra, the MLA who was reportedly carrying an olive branch from SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, who is facing the full blast of the old SP warhorse’s anger.
While Mehrotra admitted he went to meet Azam on Akhilesh’s directive, the SP chief appeared to distance himself from the move following the snub. Earlier, Jayant’s visit was seen as a mediatory gesture on Akhilesh’s behalf.
That all was not well between Akhilesh and Azam spilled into the open when Azam’s media in-charge Fasahat Ali Khan accused the SP president of maintaining silence on issues concerning the Muslim community and alleged that he did not make efforts to get Azam out of jail, or to visit him. Akhilesh, who has largely sidelined his father Mulayam Singh Yadav’s contemporaries in the party like Azam, realises Azam is one leader he can’t afford to lose, particularly with other voices of discontent against the SP among the Muslim community.
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A couple of days later, Azam sent another warning when Shivpal, who has shared an uneasy relationship with nephew Akhilesh, turned up to meet the Rampur MLA in jail for more than an hour and accused the SP of not standing up for Azam. Shivpal said the SP should have led “a struggle in support of one of its tallest leaders”.
After Azam turned away the SP MLA from jail saying he was “unwell” and couldn’t meet him, came the biggest surprise. BJP leader from Kaiserganj (Bahraich district) Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh referred to Azam as a “mass leader” and said he too would like to meet him in jail if given a chance. There was nothing wrong with meeting Azam, Singh said.
On Monday, Congress leader Acharya Pramod Krishnam met the SP MLA in jail. He claimed to have gifted Azam a Gita while the legislator offered him “khajoor (dates)”. Speaking to the media, Krishnam said Azam had faced atrocities. “I came to enquire about his health. When he comes out of jail, I will meet him again and talk politics,” Krishnam told reporters.
Meanwhile, Fasahat Ali told The Indian Express Monday that no SP leader approached him even after his critical comments about the party leadership.
Cases against Azam have not progressed in the last one-and-half years and he has received bail in all the criminal cases, barring one. BJP state spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi denied that Singh’s statement indicated the party was going soft on Azam. Asked about Singh’s remarks, Tripathi said, “It could be his remark in a personal capacity.”
In the recent Assembly election campaign, the BJP had repeatedly attacked Azam, linking the SP government’s tenure from 2012 to 2017 with the rule of the land mafia. At a rally in Moradabad on December 30, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said, “If the SP returns to power, Azam will come out of jail. If land mafiosi like Azam have to be kept inside the jail, the Adityanath government will have to be formed with a grand majority in the state once again.”
Azam being one of the state’s most prominent Muslim leaders, sources in the SP and other parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress admitted they were following the developments closely.
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