The absence of senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan from the two-day national executive meet of the party in Agra has stirred a hornet’s nest in the party. His open criticism of the SP government for the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining areas followed by his absence at Agra is seen by the party as not only defiance, but a direct challenge to the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav.
A senior SP leader said, “By staying away from the national executive meeting, Azam Khan, despite being a senior minister, is trying to distance himself from the party and the government during a crisis. He is seeking to send out a message that like many Muslims, he too is angry with the party over the Muzaffarnagar communal riots and by implication, supports Muslim organisations’ demand for the resignation of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, and also the Centre’s criticism of the SP government.”
The SP leadership was confident that Azam Khan would attend the meet. On 11 September, the first day of the national executive meet, six chairs were arranged on the dais at the venue, a five-star hotel in Agra. The chairs were for six dignitaries – Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav, Ram Gopal Yadav, state assembly speaker Mata Prasad Pandey, Rajya Sabha MP Kiranmoy Nanda and Azam Khan. Health Minister Ahmad Hasan was offered the sixth chair after Azam Khan did not turn up.
On first day of the meet, party general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav sought to downplay the absence of Azam Khan: “He must be busy in some local engagement in Lucknow and will attend the meeting on the second day.”
After Azam Khan did not turn up for the second day, the SP drafted its spokesman to attack him. “Nobody is above the party. Azam Khan is nursing an illusion if he considers himself bigger than the party. If he is not interested in remaining an office bearer of the party, then he should resign. By not attending the national executive meeting, he has undermined his own stature in the party,” said SP general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav.
Naresh Agarwal, Rajya Sabha MP, and party general secretary, said, “The SP gets the vote and support of different sections of society only because of our leader Mulayam Singh Yadav. If Azam Khan thinks that the party gets the support of the minority community because of him , then it is his mistaken belief and the sooner he corrects it, the better.”
However, few hours later, the SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav sought to downplay the controversy. After the conclusion of the meeting, he said, “Azam Khan can never be angry with me. He is an old associate and there can never be any discord between us. If at all there is some misunderstanding, we will sort it out.”
Yadav also dismissed the impression that the senior leadership of the party was against the conduct of Azam Khan especially in view of his unexplained absence from the important party meet. “Every one has the right to speak on the party forum and this should not be taken as personal criticism,” he declared.
Amir Alam, former MP of the party from Muzaffarnagar, criticised Naresh Agarwal for his comments on Azam Khan. “Turncoats like Naresh Agarwal do not have the moral standing to comment on a leader like Azam Khan, who is the co-founder of the party and a loyal leader,” said Amir Alam, who is the party candidate from Bijnor Lok Sabha seat for the 2014 parliament elections. His son Nawazish Alam is the SP MLA from the Budhana assembly seat in Muzaffarnagar district.
Azam Khan, refusing to comment on the controversy, said, “I was unwell – down with viral fever and am leaving for Rampur today. I will talk to the media after I return to Lucknow in few days.”