Updated: May 31, 2022 12:57:16 pm
SHIVPAL Yadav wasn’t the only old familiar face from the Samajwadi Party around to welcome Azam Khan’s release from jail after two years, on Friday. One of the first halts of the senior SP MLA on way home was the house of a former legislator of the party in Sitapur.
Anoop Gupta, two-time SP MLA but unsuccessful in the past two Assembly elections, hosted the Azam team at home.
Earlier, Azam’s son Abdullah, released just before the recent Assembly polls, had dropped over at Gupta’s home the first thing from jail.
While there were a few raised eyebrows given the tension in ties between Azam and the SP leadership, particularly chief Akhilesh Yadav, old-timers said this gesture by the veteran – who has the state watching his every move – was purely personal.
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Gupta’s father, the late Om Prakash Gupta, was part of the SP’s old guard and enjoyed close relations with Azam and his family. Incidentally, it is the old guard and comrades of SP patron Mulayam Singh Yadav who have been chafing under his son Akhilesh’s leadership.
Among the prominent persons by Azam’s side on Friday was Mulayam’s brother Shivpal Yadav, who floated his own party when ties with Akhilesh reached breaking point. While he is back in the SP fold now, he has not merged his party with it.
Azam, his supporters, Shivpal and some SP leaders, spent around 45 minutes at Gupta’s house.
A senior SP leader said apart from old family ties dating back to the 1980s and ’90s, Azam visited the Guptas as their house is located close to the Sitapur jail, where he was lodged. “He went to thank the Guptas for their support during his difficult times and ate a light meal there,” said the leader.
He admitted that “all old guard SP leaders consider him (Azam Khan) to be their mentor and senior”. “Now, if he is having a tough time, then the old guard will obviously stand with him. Hence, the Gupta family assisted Azam during his time in prison and Azam returned the courtesy visiting them after getting out of prison.”
Gupta, 52, won as an SP candidate from Misrikh in Sitapur in 2007, and from Maholi in Sitapur in 2012. The last two elections he was fielded by the SP from Maholi again but lost both times to BJP candidates.
Om Prakash Gupta passed away in 2012 after a heart attack. His last rites held in Sitapur were attended by leaders cutting across party lines.
As Azam reached Rampur, his pocket borough, with Shivpal, a grander welcome awaited him. The SP leader, swamped by a crowd of supporters, said his “own people” had contributed to his “destruction”. “The BJP, BSP or the Congress is not a big question for me at this time,” Azam said.
An emotional Azam also talked about the time he got Covid in jail. “I was the only one left in the ward of the hospital. I saw all the bodies leave.”
A 10-time MLA, Azam said he had never compromised with his integrity. “I am not the one who sells his conscience. Neither will I sell my country nor my community.”
On corruption charges against him, he said: “I have not done politics for 40 years to get gold and silver bracelets. I don’t even have a bungalow.”
Azam also said that Muslims were being punished for their right to vote. “All political parties understand that Muslims can spoil the equation of political outfits.”
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