Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav on Friday strongly defended the star-studded festival at Saifai, accusing the media of blowing things out of proportion.
“Do not question the artistes who participated (in Saifai Mahotsav). Ask me, I am the chief minister of UP,” he said in defence of the event held at a time when children affected by the Muzaffarnagar riots were dying of cold in relief camps in the western UP district barely 300 km from Saifai.
Akhilesh is facing the heat over the timing of the event, organised at the ancestral village of his father and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Akhilesh and Mulayam were among the gathering of politicians and bureaucrats on the last day of the show on Wednesday.
The CM rubbished reports that Rs 300 crore was spent on the festival, which saw the participation of celebrities such as Salman Khan, Madhuri Dixit and Mallika Sherawat.
“Those who have come up with this figure should either apologise or substantiate it. At most Rs 7-8 crore is spent on the Saifai festival every year,” he said, adding, “Artistes from Mumbai came even when the SP was not in power.”
The CM of India's most populous and politically crucial state (UP has 80 Lok Sabha seats, the highest in the country) also said the media did not notice what his government had done for the Muzaffarnagar riot victims.
“We have done a lot to help the riot victims return home. No other government has ever done as much as we did. Salman Khan visited children in the hospital and promised to help Muzaffarnagar riot victims.”
The August-September communal violence in Muzaffarnagar claimed 61 lives and uprooted more than 50,000. In November 2013, UP had informed the Supreme Court that of the 50,955 people who had taken shelter in relief camps, 41,000 had returned home.
Akhilesh also said the Saifai festival had given a platform to youth and many unknown artistes. He added small traders had done brisk business by setting up stalls at the fairground.
Before his press conference, news came in that amid the wave of criticism, Akhilesh had cancelled plans to attend the premiere of Madhuri Dixit’s upcoming movie Dedh Ishqiya at a multiplex in Lucknow.