Sonia Gandhi at a rally in Uchana, Haryana, on Sunday. (PTI)
New Delhi, March 1: This was the moment the Samajwadi Party chief would have been dreading. Mulayam Singh Yadav today got into a face-to-face argument with a Muslim voter on whether he was justified in accepting Kalyan Singhs support.
At one point, the former chief minister said in frustration: Humko tokoge to hum keh denge; hum se mat bulvao sab kuch (needle me and I shall speak out; dont make me open my mouth).
The subject is sensitive, to Muslims and Mulayam himself, desperate as he is to win back the minority voters put off by his alliance with the man who headed Uttar Pradeshs BJP government when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992.
The spectre of Muslim estrangement tempered Samajwadi celebrations after todays upset bypoll win at Bhadohi Assembly seat, where the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party lost by 5,365 votes. There was satisfaction, but no elation.
Mulayam and party general secretary Amar Singh met Muslim leaders from Uttar Pradesh at the Indo-Islamic centre here.
The Samajwadi chief was explaining that Kalyan had strong support in 21 districts, and was now an Independent supporting his party, when a man in the audience stood up to disagree.
The protester, who later melted in the crowd, asked Mulayam how he could trust a man accused of conniving at the Babri demolition.
An excited Mulayam argued with the unknown face unabashedly, asking him why he (Muslims) had backed the party when it took Kalyans support during a three-year-and-eight-month stint in power.
Kalyans Rashtriya Kranti Party was part of the Samajwadi-led Uttar Pradesh government in 2003-07, but Mulayam then had enough proof of his secularism Ś the Left was his friend and the Congress supported him from outside to keep the BJP out.
Mulayam told his questioner that Kalyan had visited a Muslim household in Bulandshahr this week and embraced members of the family.
Three Shiv Sena people are in the Congress now; why are you not asking themů dont make me open my mouth, he said.
The Samajwadis are worried that influential party leader Azam Khan has been openly criticising Mulayams decisions. Mulayam declared he was ready to take insults from Khan.
I have been calling him but he does not answer the phoneů. I can even take Amar Singh with me and go to his home and take any insult. I can take insults for the nation but I cannot tolerate it if the minority community is insulted, he said.
Azam wields immense clout in Rampur and its neighbourhood in western Uttar Pradesh. Rampur has more than five lakh Muslim voters Ś and nearly one lakh Lodhi voters whom Kalyans name can attract.