The dawn and dusk of Azam Khan

Senior SP leader and MP Azam Khan | File photo

The Samajwadi Party leader and Member of Parliament from Rampur Uttar Pradesh Azam Khan, who is currently lodged in Sitapur, was referred to Lucknow on July 19 after his oxygen level dropped to 88. Khan has been in jail for more than a year after the Yogi Adityanath government filed multiple cases against him and his wife and son for their links to various incidents of land grabbing and encroachment in the state. From being a novice to a power player in UP’s political landscape, Azam Khan’s story is one of many ups and downs.

Aas Mohammad Kaif | 

Support TwoCircles

UTTAR PRADESH – Everyone in the political spectrum of Uttar Pradesh knows that in 1989, in a ‘behind the scene’ meeting to make Mulayam Singh Yadav the Chief Minister, former Prime Minister VP Singh had talked about making Azam Khan the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. VP Singh had reasoned that if Azam Khan becomes the Chief Minister of the country’s largest state, his Janata Dal will get unilateral support from the Muslims of the entire country. He thought that with this move, Janata Dal will be able to form government’s across India.

In response, Azam Khan took a memorable step by presenting Mulayam Singh Yadav as the messiah of the marginalized and minority communities and suggested his name as the Chief Minister of the state. This act of Azam Khan is remembered till this day.

Mulayam Singh Yadav became Chief Minister on June 24, 1989, and Azam Khan was made a minister in his cabinet. Political observers note about Azam Khan that he would never praise himself and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s would praise Azam Khan by saying that “whatever he has achieved, he has done so due to the role played by Khan.” In Lucknow’s political corridors, this story is often told when speaking about the relationship between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Azam Khan.

Despite all kinds of family, political and organizational opposition and his quirkiness, Azam Khan always remained ‘an apple of the eye’ for Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mulayam Singh Yadav would always listen to Azam Khan so much so that when other Muslim leaders of the party reached Yadav with this complaint, Mulayam Singh would say, “Azam ki baat chhodo, apna sanao (Leave Azam Khan aside, talk about yourself.)!”

Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is fondly known as Netaji in UP, would never talk to ‘Khan Sahab’ in a bitter tone. Sources in the party said that the relationship between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Azam Khan was so good that in 2014 when Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s chances of becoming the Prime Minister were almost over, Azam Khan hugged him and wept. The dejected Azam would say that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s dream of becoming the ‘Wazir-e-Azam (Prime Minister)’ of India cannot be fulfilled. Seeing him weeping, Mulayam Singh Yadav consoled him.

Mulayam Singh Yadav was a three-time Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and Azam Khan was given the second position in each of his cabinets. However, before 2012, the situation was completely different. In 2007, Mayawati became the Chief Minister with a majority and during this tenure, Akhilesh Yadav was constantly struggling and yet growing in popularity. Azam Khan was angry with the Samajwadi Party then and there were conspiracies against him in the party.

During this time, Amar Singh’s closeness with the Yadav family had grown and Azam Khan was feeling the heat and Kalyan Singh coming to Samajwadi Party was a problem for Khan. He was humiliated by a police officer in Ghaziabad. It was speculated that an MP from a Yadav family living in Delhi was behind it. It was around this time when Mulayam Singh Yadav got close to Amar Singh. At that time it was discussed that Azam Khan would never return to the Samajwadi Party. There were speculations that he will go to Congress or will form his party and that the BSP supremo Mayawati is also keen to get him included in the party.

In 2009 in Saharanpur, Azam Khan said that Netaji’s place is in his heart and he can never separate from him but he will no longer join the Samajwadi Party. At this time, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s fell ill and Azam Khan returned home to him.

It is said that Netaji gave Akhilesh Yadav’s hand to Azam Khan and said ‘Take care of Akhilesh after me.’ The emotional Azam Khan grabbed Netaji’s hand with both hands and hugged Akhilesh Yadav. After this episode, Azam Khan wholeheartedly supported Akhilesh Yadav.

After recovering from his illness, Mulayam Singh Yadav started campaigning for the elections. The hard work paid off and in 2012 the Samajwadi Party came to power with a majority.

These days there is talk of Akhilesh Yadav becoming the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. A strange atmosphere was created about the ambition of his uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav, but Mulayam Singh Yadav took care of it. Azam Khan accepted Akhilesh Yadav as his leader and proposed his name for the Chief Minister. It was a gesture of Azam Khan’s loyalty to Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Not only did Azam Khan get influential portfolios in Akhilesh Yadav’s cabinet, but he took oath at number two after Akhilesh Yadav.

Hindu fundamentalist forces used to call him Super CM and there was no interference of the Chief Minister in his department. Not only this, Azam Khan would play an important role in the portfolio of other Muslim ministers in the Akhilesh Yadav government. Azam Khan’s stature was such that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav had reached before him at a program in Rampur and later when Azam Khan arrived, everyone stood up and welcomed him. Similarly in Saharanpur, Azam Khan arrived late and made everyone feel his power.

Azam Khan’s close friends said that there was a change in him after 2013. During this time, he was targeted and presented as a villain as part of the conspiracy in the Muzaffarnagar riots. Some media groups started blaming him based on baseless information. Sources reveal that Azam Khan had no role in the Muzaffarnagar riots and neither he was with the riot victims nor did he show any interest in taking action against the rioters. In the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots during which Khan was a minister in charge, he was portrayed as a villain by the Hindutva media. After that, Khan tried to change his image. He did not visit Muzaffarnagar after the riots.

After 2 years, he arrived at a rally in Saharanpur with great pride and said, “Kahan se chhedoon fasana kahan tamam karoon (Where shall I start my story and where can I end it?)”! At that time Azam Khan had become eyesore for the Hindutva forces because of his rising power.

At this time, Khan made attempts to wash away the radical image created by a section of the media. Azam Khan had understood that he had to change his image. Although not a communalist, the media had portrayed him as a staunch Muslim.

As part of this change, he got angry with the Muslim leaders of his party. From not making Shakir Ali a minister to removing Ashu Malik’s name from the MLC list, undermining Kamal Akhtar to fighting for Shahid Manzoor’s portfolio, Azam Khan became infamous. He distanced himself from the Muslims. One after the other, they made political mistakes. He started commenting on the Ulemas. He advocated the positions of Ruchiveera of Bijnor and Sarojini Agarwal of Meerut, which changed as the government changed.

Azam Khan had also lobbied for Wasim Rizvi, which came as a big insult to Muslims. When Wasim Rizvi was removed by Akhilesh Yadav, Azam Khan put Wasim Rizvi back on the chair with the intervention of Mulayam Singh Yadav.

People who know Azam Khan closely in Rampur said that there was another reason for this change in Azam Khan. He had studied at Aligarh Muslim University and he had a dream. He wanted to build a university along the lines of Aligarh Muslim University.

During the Chief Ministership of Akhilesh Yadav, Khan’s only goal was to accomplish his dream. For this, he made a compromise with his opponents. He knocked on every court. He collected donations and gathered land and accomplished his dream. Azam Khan has admitted that if destiny had not sent Aziz Qureshi sahib to Lucknow Raj Bhavan as Governor, then perhaps this dream would have remained incomplete. This dream of establishing a university became the biggest reason for Azam Khan’s transformation.

Azam Khan, who is in Sitapur jail for the last one and a half years, was admitted to Medanta Hospital in Lucknow after his condition deteriorated. With this came a flood of sympathy. A sitting MP from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, Khan has become a symbol for his community. Khan has been a cabinet minister four times in the Samajwadi Party rule. He is a founding member of the Samajwadi Party and has been a 9 time MLA. Along with him, his wife Tanzin Fatima and Abdullah Azam were also sent to jail. At present, his wife has got bail and his son is still in jail. Azam Khan’s health has been deteriorating since last April 13 and he had contracted Covid-19.

On July 13, despite his health deteriorating, he was sent from the hospital to Sitapur Jail. On July 19, he was again admitted to the hospital due to low oxygen levels.

The harassment meted out to Azam Khan has become a big issue amid election year in Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party is under question for not campaigning for his release. All cases of Azam Khan are being advocated under the supervision of party president Akhilesh Yadav.

BJP’s enmity with Azam Khan is not new. Earlier in the 2017 election campaign, many BJP leaders used to talk about sending Azam Khan to jail from the stage. Sending Azam Khan to jail was like an undeclared election agenda. Suresh Rana, the sugarcane minister of the current government, had even said that he (Khan) would be sent to Brijvahan before appearing in the court. Recently, pictures of Azam Khan in a deteriorating health condition went viral on social media. As the pictures became viral, there is a discussion going about the harassment he has faced and many are calling it vendetta politics.

Coming from a very modest family, Azam Khan had made his acceptance among the poor by raising his voice against Rampuri Nawabs. Khan had a complete hold in the politics of Rampur and both his followers and enemies grew during this time. At one time, he was fiercely opposed in Rampur.

Today, the atmosphere of Rampur has changed and there is a wave of sympathy for him.

Danish Khan, a staunch opponent of Azam Khan in Rampur, confirms this. “When Azam Khan Sahab was taken to the hospital in a sick condition, he had a pen on his chest. Azam Khan was fighting for this pen,” Danish said.

Danish now has no complaint against Azam Khan and he prays for his well-being.

It is being said that every person fighting against Azam Khan in Rampur is praying for him.

Danish said that “by now the whole country has understood that whatever is done against Azam Khan is done to humiliate him and his community and followers and this is wrong.”

Azam Khan’s family said that they don’t talk to the media anymore.

Ajmal Khan, a member of the family, told that he has no complaint against Akhilesh Yadav. “He is doing everything possible but had Netaji (Mulayam Singh Yadav) been healthy, something else would have happened,” he said.

Ajmal said that the demolition of the outer wall of the university has given the biggest blow to the family. “It has hurt Khan Saheb a lot. He speaks very little now,” Ajmal said.

For his followers, Azam Khan is a strong man and has struggled all his life. “Jail will not break him,” they say.

Amidst the deteriorating health of Azam Khan, Akhilesh Yadav also reached Medanta Hospital to meet him. Amidst the criticism, Akhilesh Yadav said that he and Samajwadi Party are with Azam Khan sahib and a big fight will be fought for Khan.