Lucknow, Sept. 16: Senior minister Azam Khan, who had been unhappy with the handling of the Muzaffarnagar violence, praised the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi government today as another minority face returned to the party.
The twin moves came as a relief as the government drew fresh fire from rivals in the Assembly and a reminder from the Prime Minister during a tour of the area that it is “duty of the state to safeguard life and property”.
But Khan, the Samajwadis’ minority face who had skipped the Samajwadi national executive meeting last week amid reports he was unhappy with Akhilesh’s alleged failure to take strong action over the clashes, today threw his lot behind the administration.
“We have acted according to the law and will continue doing so. It is the law-enforcing mechanism that controlled the violence in Muzaffarnagar,” Khan said in the Assembly amid slogan-chanting Opposition members.
Last week, Khan was upset with the government after BJP leaders named in FIRs were not arrested. They are yet to be held even now. But Khan’s softening of stance follows Akhilesh meeting him yesterday at the senior leader’s residence, Samajwadi insiders said.
Khan, the insiders said, was particularly displeased with the way the situation was tackled in the aftermath of the violence when some BJP leaders defied prohibitory orders in the affected areas and were not held. He suspected the leaders of inciting trouble.
The other shot in the arm for Akhilesh came today when Imran Masood, a prominent minority leader and nephew of former Union minister Rashid Masood, returned to the Samajwadi Party from the Congress.
A former MLA from Saharanpur — part of the western Uttar Pradesh belt along with Muzaffarnagar — Masood had quit just before the state polls in March last year.
Today, Masood echoed Khan’s suspicion about a conspiracy behind the clashes, alleging “communal forces seemed to be fomenting trouble in western Uttar Pradesh”. “We will fight the menace together.”
Senior Samajwadi leader and PWD minister Shivpal Singh Yadav was quick to describe Masood’s return as “a major gain” despite his reputation of being a party-hopper. Masood was with the Congress — of which his uncle Rashid is a long-time member — for less than two years.
Observers believe Khan’s shedding of reservations over the violence, his stout defence of the government today and Masood’s homecoming would boost the Samajwadis and help the embattled government normalise the situation and check erosion of support.