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Mulayam festival faces Nero-like music

Lucknow, Jan. 8: Chartered planes deposited Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit this evening on what was once the hottest political platform for Bollywood but has now become a hot-button issue that stirs questions of insensitivity.

The superstars of today and yesteryears were scheduled to perform at the Saifai festival, a jamboree in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s birthplace and an event that allowed Amar Singh to parade his friends and well-wishers from show business.

Although Amar and Mulayam have parted ways, it would have been business as usual this time, too, but for two factors.

One, the latest edition of the two-week festival comes at a time the state government headed by Mulayam’s son Akhilesh is under fire for allegedly neglecting the Muzaffarnagar riot victims. Critics feel that the extravaganza will strike an incongruous note against the backdrop of the misery of the riot-affected families.

Another cause for embarrassment for the state government has been the departure of 20 Samajwadi Party legislators and ministers this morning on a tour to study “parliamentary techniques” abroad. The Opposition has termed it a “junket” at taxpayers’ expense.

But most other Samajwadi leaders have headed to Saifai village in Etawah district, where chartered flights have been landing since this morning.

Around 10 chartered planes have been hired to ferry the stars and VIP guests. Four planes from Mumbai and three from Delhi had landed by the evening.

One of the first stars to land was Madhuri. Salman reached later and was greeted by the chief minister. Sources said actors Ranveer Singh and Soha Ali Khan were expected to perform at the grand finale tonight.

The Saifai cultural festival was conceived in 1994 as a tribute to the late Ranveer Singh Yadav, nephew of Mulayam.

For the first three years, the festival remained a local affair and the organisers primarily invited folk artistes to perform. But the texture began to change after Amar joined the Samajwadi Party in 1995.

Amar built a bridge between Saifai and Mumbai, banking on his friendship with Amitabh Bachchan. In 2003, Bachchan performed, followed by Sanjay Dutt and a host of starlets since then. The performers in more recent years include Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Bipasha Basu.

However, even after Amar was expelled from the party in December 2010, the festival managed to draw big names. In 2012, when the Samajwadi Party was voted back to power, the organisers brought Hrithik Roshan.

But the latest show, which started on December 26, has drawn more attention because of the riots and the junket controversy.

“At a time when children are dying daily in these camps, Akhilesh Yadav is organising Saifai Mahotsav with shows by dancers and film stars from Mumbai,” said Beni Prasad Yadav, the Union minister and Congress leader who rarely misses any opportunity to needle the Samajwadi leadership.

A former Samajwadi Party MP and general secretary Shahid Siddique said in Delhi that the total expenses for the show this year might have surpassed previous records. “Anyone knowing the rates that Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit and other stars command can calculate the money being spent,” Siddique said.

Samajwadi spokesperson and state minister Rajendra Chaudhary said this evening: “The Uttar Pradesh government has nothing to do with Saifai Mahotsav. It is being organised locally by a voluntary association to promote arts and culture.”

The show has banned television cameras, triggering charges that the government is trying to dodge adverse coverage. But other sources said cameras were being regulated to avoid commercial exploitation of the footage.

Chief minister Akhilesh, who had attended the inauguration along with his father, called the show “a Samajwadi tradition to promote local culture”, which is “unnecessarily being dragged into a controversy”.

_The chief minister also defended the 20-day “study tour” by the MLAs and ministers covering countries such as Turkey, Greece, the UK and the Netherlands. “Such tours are common everywhere. It was not invented by my government,” he said.