Lucknow, Sept. 11: The Samajwadi Party’s most recognisable Muslim face, Azam Khan, has stayed away from the party’s national executive meeting that began in Agra yesterday after protesting against the state government’s handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots.
All other top leaders, led by party president Mulayam Singh Yadav and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, were in Agra today for the three-day meeting set up to plan the strategy for the 2014 elections.
On Monday, Azam had said in Lucknow: “We were required to handle the situation with a firm hand. Those instigating the violence should have been arrested immediately.” He was referring to an FIR against four BJP MLAs on Sunday, who were not arrested.
Azam is said to be particularly upset because he is the minister in charge of Muzaffarnagar district but was kept out of the loop by Akhilesh, sources said.
Mulayam today defended his son and chief minister, telling the national executive meeting: “Had the government not swung into action, it would not have been under control.”
He also tried to play down the violence, arguing: “It was not a riot in the normal sense of the term, it is actually a caste conflict. However, I must say the number of people killed is large and this should have been avoided.”
To a question about Azam’s absence, party spokesperson Ram Gopal Yadav said: “He may be having some important work, some urgent meeting of his department. Why this fuss over Khan? Don’t you see him at all important events with the chief minister?”
Attempts to contact Azam in Lucknow failed, with his aide claiming that the minister was down with “viral fever”.
Samajwadi insiders are worried that Azam’s absence might send across a wrong message to Muslim voters.
Azam, who had quit the party before the 2009 general election in protest against Mulayam’s alliance with former BJP minister Kalyan Singh and returned in 2010 after Amar Singh was expelled, shares an uneasy equation with Akhilesh and has openly criticised him in the past..
Recently, the chief minister sought to reach out to Azam by announcing Rs 100 crore for the development of his constituency Rampur.
But Azam is cut up with Akhilesh for the way he has been promoting another Muslim leader, Ahmad Hasan, who is the health minister. In Lucknow, Hasan accompanies the chief minister to all official programmes.