The Samajwadi Party may be known for the Yadavs, but in this election, the party has witnessed the rise of a new dynasty — the Khans.
Back in 2014, Abdullah Azam Khan was a student in a Noida university, pursuing his M.Tech in civil engineering. He lived in a hostel and then a paying guest accommodation with friends. But the seeming normalcy of student life could not conceal the fact that he was the son of UP’s most powerful and controversial Muslim leader, Azam Khan.
The Election Commission had banned the Samajwadi Party (SP) minister from addressing public rallies because of communal utterances. But in SP tradition, whenever Mulayam Singh or chief minister Akhilesh Yadav visited Rampur, Azam Khan hosted them.
Who would do it now?
Abdullah Azam Khan was called back home. And he was assigned the task of welcoming the chief minister at a public rally in the district. Khan recalls, “I told my father that people begin on a small scale and then slowly rise. You are throwing me straight at the top with the chief minister. Are you going to bring me down after this?”
The younger Khan got a taste of politics, returned home the following year, began managing the Jauhar university set up by his father, and is now the SP candidate from the Swar constituency of Rampur.
Still single, his life is now consumed by the election.
He attributes it to that coincidence in 2014, and claims politics was never a part of the plan. With a laugh, he says, “Otherwise I would not have studied so much. I was even planning to start a PhD programme in engineering.”
The Rampur contest is significant for three reasons. The 26-year-old Khan is contesting against another dynasty — the Nawab of Rampur, Kazim Ali Khan. A win would mark the emergence of a new political dynasty in UP. And the son’s politics appears less belligerent than his father.
‘Is it a crime to be a Muslim?’
Sitting in the SP office in Rampur, Azam Khan — who played a role in mediating the rift between Mulayam and Akhilesh Yadav — says the UP election of 2017 will determine whether India would retain its ‘secular norms’, whether it would be the country of Gandhi or Godse.
But BJP has been in power for almost three years, and the secular character of the constitution has not changed. So why this alarmism if it comes to power in Lucknow?
Khan senior replies, “BJP does not have the required majority in Parliament to do it. And the Supreme Court is alive. That is what has preserved the Constitution.”
HT asked Azam Khan about the perception that he practised Muslim communal politics as well. “Should I feed them poison?” No, but should he not speak of other communities too if he was secular? “Why? Aren’t Muslims a part of this community? How many articles are there in the constitution dealing with minorities? So you don’t believe in the constitution either; you will ask me questions against the constitution. Is it such a crime to be a Muslim? Is it a crime to uplift them?”
His son, Abdullah, claims Muslim insecurity has risen with Modi.
“They have called us ‘haraamzaada’. The PM equated us with pups. They have said snatch away Muslim voting rights. Obviously, the Muslim is insecure,” he said.
But beyond the similarities, there is also a distinction in both the style and substance of the message of the father and son.
There has been a death of a supporter in Swar. As Abdullah drives down in his SUV to the burial — pointing to the poor roads as a sign of the area’s under-development — he is polite, waving to supporters on the way. He clearly derives his support from being his father’s son, but is capitalising on the youth factor to expand his base.
When asked how his politics is different from that of his father, Khan junior says, “There is an upgradation that happens with time. When he started politics, issues of social justice and equality were very important. People needed security. Today, while these issues are important, people are more educated, better off. They now want development along with security.” What politics now demands is a ‘balance’.
Khan says that he believes in politics that speaks to both these concerns — and there should be ‘social security’ for everyone.
“Be it Muslims or even Hindus in Muslim-dominant areas, every should be secure and develop,” he says.