It’s been more than four decades since you entered politics as a student leader in the Aligarh Muslim University. Today, you are seen as the sole spokesperson of the Samajwadi Party onminority issues. How has the journey been so far?
It has been a tumultuous journey. I have faced innumerable hardships in the past four decades. I am constantly under attack from all possible quarters. I have never claimed to be the Muslim face of the party, as I know that I cannot mobilise the votes of the minority community.
Your critics in the party allege that Mulayam Singh Yadav has been projecting you as the only Muslim leader in the party to strengthen the Yadav-Muslim social coalition.
You should ask Mulayam Singh Yadav why he gives me so much importance that people see me as the sole Muslim face of the party. Why are others jealous if Mulayam Singh pampers me? I am not hurt by those who are jealous of me. In the Assembly election last year, I was the one who won with the highest margin among all Samajwadi Party candidates. My relationship with Mulayam Singh goes back almost four decades. It is based on a solid foundation of mutual trust and confidence.
Whenever you sense a threat to your exclusive position as the Muslim face of the party, you stop attending party meetings and Cabinet meetings. During the past 18 months, CM Akhilesh Yadav had to visit you twice to placate you.
Akhilesh Yadav is the son of Netaji (Mulayam Singh), and I had proposed his name for the CM’s post. He never came to my residence to placate me. He comes to my place only because I visit his residence quite often. The CM seldom visits other ministers at their residence simply because those ministers do not visit him at his house as often as I do.
You are a permanent dissident of the party and were expelled in May 2009. You boycotted the last eight Cabinet meetings and did not attend the national executive meeting of the party in Agra this month.
It’s unfair to call me a permanent dissident. Why should it bother anyone whether I attended the meeting of the national executive or not? It is my party. It’s my discretion to decide where to go and where not to go. I have no differences with any party colleague. I never attack my ministerial colleagues. I attack our political rivals only.
Your one-time colleague and Rampur MP Jaya Prada, who was expelled from the party in January 2010, came out in your support after you were attacked by party leaders for your absence from Agra. Is a patch-up in the offing?
I read the statement in the media. She said I am her brother. Keval bhai kaha, bhai jaan nahee kaha (She has only said brother, not dear brother). A two-term MP from Rampur, she has contributed immensely to enhancing the profile and giving a specific identity to the town. I thank her for her statement. But I take exception to her statement that she is with me in my hour of crisis. I am not facing any crisis. I am a minister and am quite satisfied.
The BJP has accused you of fomenting the riots in Muzaffarnagar.
The BJP had launched a similar dirty campaign against me two decades ago during the agitation for a Ram temple at Ayodhya. They accused me of making disparaging remarks on ‘Mother India’. But they could never prove it. Even now they won’t succeed. There are devices available today to trace the electronic records of all communications. Nothing can be hidden anymore. I never made a call to any police official in Muzaffarnagar seeking the release of anybody accused of involvement in the communal riots. I can never stoop so low and talk to a sub-inspector of police for this.
Is the UP government contemplating a ban on the Kanpur rally of the BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi scheduled for 15 October?
It’s not about an individual. It’s about law and order. The government will go by the ground report of the district administration in Kanpur. The media caused immense damage to the image of the state government and the CM by its one-sided coverage of the suspension of IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal. The government was painted as the villain of the piece. This incident shook the faith of the bureaucracy in the Samajwadi Party government and also weakened the grip of the government over the bureaucracy. This resulted in a big setback for the government in Muzaffarnagar, where communal riots broke out. Now, the CM is taking a tough approach and the government will ensure that peace prevails in the state.