The 10-time Samajwadi Party MLA and former MP from Rampur, Mohammad Azam Khan, has got bail in almost 88 cases that were lodged against him. He has been in jail for over two years now. But all of a sudden the issue of Azam Khan is emerging as a tricky affair for the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party.
While the incarcerated leader met Akhilesh’s uncle and Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party Lohia (PSPL) chief Shivpal Yadav and Congress leader Acharya Pramod Krishnan, he refused to meet an SP MLA delegation that had sought time.
Other opposition parties including the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, and even All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) are scrambling to express their sympathies towards Azam Khan when he has got bail in most of the cases lodged against him. First, the AIMIM wrote him a letter, inviting him into its fold. Then came the Congress, whose leader in Prayagraj had recently put up hoardings welcoming Khan. Now the BSP has also raised the issue of the jailed MLA as party chief Mayawati attacked the BJP in a series of tweets and alleged that Azam Khan was being harassed.
PSPL spokesperson Parakhar Singh said, “Our leader Shivpal ji went to meet Azam Khan in jail but SP chief Akhilesh Yadav is so busy that he can’t spare an hour and a half for travelling to Sitapur Jail and meeting him. Respect is supreme and PSPL stands firmly with Azam Khan in his fight against atrocities. Even Azam Khan’s son Abdullah Azam has not clearly said if he is in favour of Samajwadi Party anymore. It is up to Azam Khan to decide if he wants to leave the SP. But one thing I want to make clear is that Shivpal ji and his entire party stand firmly with Azam Khan.”
It’s not just these political parties that have come out and raised questions about Azam Khan being lodged in jail even after getting bail in most of the cases. Even the Supreme Court had pulled up the Uttar Pradesh government on the issue and asked why so many cases were lodged against Khan, and why was a new case filed as soon as he got bail in another.
Azam Khan has been languishing in jail for more than two years now. Earlier his son Abdullah Azam and wife Tazeen Fatma were also behind bars but they are currently out on bail. Sources in the SP suggest that Azam Khan was willing to field one of his family members in the Rampur Lok Sabha bypoll while Akhilesh had not given his final nod on it.
Even as the jailed MLA seems to have multiple offers, the Samajwadi Party seems to have little time to be by his side. Akhilesh had visited him only once in two years. The SP chief recently met incarcerated party workers in Azamgarh, but neither he nor party’s state unit chief Naresh Uttam Patel went to meet Azam Khan.
The Congress thinks the SP has deserted one of its top leaders when he needed his party the most. UP Congress spokesperson Anshu Awasthi said, “After our immediate family, a political party is a family for a politician. When we go through tough times, we expect that our family and the political party we fight for will stand by us. But in the case of senior leaders like Azam Khan, it is very unfortunate that the SP deserted him when he needed it the most. Our leaders went and met Azam Khan in jail even after being from another party. Such a senior leader who stood by Mulayam and Akhilesh Yadav during his rift with Shivpal Yadav is being ignored and how. If Azam Khan’s family feel that they need us, then right from our top leadership to our local worker will be standing with him. A senior leader like Azam Khan is most welcome if he wishes to join the Congress. However, a decision in this regard will be taken by our top leadership only.”
A few days ago, the incarcerated leader’s close aide and media incharge Fasahat Ali Khan ‘Shanu’ had also raised concerns about the MLA and had gone to the extent of saying that “Azam Khan was left to die at Sitapur Jail by the Samajwadi Party”.
Along with the Azam Khan controversy, another issue that has bubbled up before the Samajwadi Party is brewing discontent among its Muslim vote base. The lack of a proper stand and a clear statement on issues related to atrocities and hate speeches against minorities has also triggered a negative sentiment in the community against the SP.
After shying away from hosting iftar and after losing the 2022 UP assembly elections, Akhilesh not just attended multiple iftar parties but is also being vocal on issues related to the minorities. The SP chief knows well that a slight shift in the voting patterns of Muslims can have a negative impact on his party in the state.
The Samajwadi Party also says that it stands firmly with Azam Khan who is a victim of vendetta politics by the BJP.
Speaking to News18, SP spokesperson Abdul Hafiz Gandhi said, “Azam Khan sahab is a founding member of the Samajwadi Party. The party is doing everything to help him. All Samajwadis are solidly behind him. We have faith in the judiciary that justice will be done to him and he will soon be out of jail. Azam sahab is a victim of the vendetta politics of the BJP, the ruling party. Whenever he gets bail, a new case is filed against him to stall his release. This vendetta politics of the BJP must end.”