Azam Khan, the number two minister in the UP government and the Muslim face of the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP), they say, is an enigma, drawing extreme reactions from all those who come in touch with him. From resignation threats – that were subsequently denied-- to levelling letterleak charges, Khan has been firing on all cylinders since the government formation.
Hindustan Times spoke to the minister, who, according to those who know him, is a well-meaning man who doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind. Excerpts from the telephonic conversation:
Q: Why are bureaucrats so afraid of you? For more than a month no bureaucrat is willing to become the Lucknow municipal commissioner.
A: (Laughs) I never knew that the media would get so focused on one officer, one post, one issue. There is no municipal commissioner but there is a mayor, two additional municipal commissioners to assist him along with so many employees. The work can go on still, isn’t it?
Q: Yes, but the problem is that after 37 days now officers are shying away from the post. After NP Singh, NKS Chauhan was posted here. But he never joined?
A: See the mayor must know this better. There is obviously a lot of politics involved. Attempts are being made to shield officers.
Q: But it’s your government which has to post someone here, isn’t it?
A: Yes. As regards Mr Chauhan not joining Lucknow, the reason is he is doing good work in Kanpur. So we are looking out for a good officer for Lucknow. But as I said, the mayor must discharge his responsibilities now – which mean that the state capital has to be kept clean.
Q: Fine. But, why are doctors reluctant to get posted in Rampur hospital? In fact you had to write to the health minister to get doctors posted here.
A: Well there was indeed some shortage but that has been mostly overcome.
Q: But you do draw extreme reactions from bureaucrats?
A: The simple reason is that I bring everything on record. With me around, i t’s difficult for anyone to shirk responsibility. I have never asked for any undue favors from anyone. I haven’t got anything to hide. So I speak. But, the whole aim is to improve the functioning of the system.
Q: You even accused your own personal secretary of sending a missive to the government without your knowledge. Is it possible?
A: It did happen that way but leave this now. It’s an old story. I can’t only think of the bad things.
Q: At the Samajwadi Party’s national executive meet in Kolkata, party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav admonished ministers and tasked you with the job of checking them. How do you propose to go about your job?
A: (laughs) When I am unable to check you, how can I check them!
Q: Your Jauhar University is a reality now in Rampur. But you have been accusing the Raj Bhawan of playing politics with your pet project. Why?
A: Since the last time our government was in power, the bill seeking to ensure that only through a ¾ majority would it be possible for any party or any government to shut the university has been pending with the Raj Bhawan. It has been 5 years and 7 months now that the Raj Bhawan has been sitting on the bill. Yes, the Raj Bhawan had its reasons which I did my best to answer. I told the Governor that the bill had been sent to Raj Bhawan after being cleared by the assembly and legal vetting. Twice I got the advocate general’s opinion on it as desired and sent it to Raj Bhawan. Still I urged the Governor that if he didn’t feel like giving his nod, he could send the bill back to the assembly.
Q: But weren’t you also seeking a minority university status for Jauhar University?
A: Actually Rampur university already has that status. It was basically after the judgement by a single bench of HC in Aligarh Muslim University case that made us think that way. But primarily we wanted to esnure that the Jauhar university continued despite change in governments. That is what I actually want for this university is aimed at ensuring the uplift of Mulsims through education.
Q: You even said that the Raj Bhawan acted on the orders of the Congress leadership?
A: But I also urged Sonia Gandhi to grant central university status to the Jauhar university. Let the centre take ownership of the university. I am willing even for that. I have rare manuscripts, ancient Qurans, such old literature that one would find hard to find. I want to preserve this wealth.
Q: You may have been criticised for your behavior but then you have always been known as a upright minister. But over the last few months one heard allegations that coupons were being issued by you to collect funds for the university. What’s the truth?
A: They aren’t coupons. They are receipts which are issued only by me. Even my wife who is the trustee of the university doesn’t have the power to issue receipts. I get donations, funds. You would be surprised to know how many Hindus have donated for the cause. Yes, I have been getting and accepting donations. Yes, I have been issuing receipts. It has all been for a cause. That’s why I have assumed full accountability for donations. Jauhar university is everything for me. Infact, it is what is guiding me. I don’t have any ambitions. I neither want to be the CM or the PM. Let anyone judge me.