His incendiary rhetoric may have marked him as an enfant terrible of Maharashtra politics, but when Abu Asim Azmi (53) — the Samajwadi Party MLA who loves collecting guns and riding his Mercedes Benz bicycles with his grandsons — talks, people listen.
To many Maharashtrians Azmi comes across as offensive and loutish but for 12.5 lakh migrants from Uttar Pradesh living in Mumbai Azmi, with personal holdings of Rs 126 crore, represents their voices and is a touchstone of their yearnings and aspirations.
Born in 1955 in Manjeer Patti in Azamgarh into a zamindar (landlord) family, Azmi one of seven brothers moved to Mumbai in 1973 to start his professional career.
Working in his father’s embroidery unit in the crowded bylanes of the Muslim dominated Bhendi Bazaar, Azmi made the transformation to enterprising businessmen by starting a recruitment agency sending people to the Gulf and dabbling in real estate.
Two decades later, the college dropout who complete his BA in 2001, has made his mark in Maharashtra’s politics.
Azmi has been arrested in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts case, has been accused of inciting a mob to lynch two policemen in Bhiwandi, has been stopped from entering half a dozen districts in Maharashtra, had his passport impounded by the police, had his son picked up in Dubai for drug abuse charges, been beaten up in the legislative assembly.
He also managed to win from two Assembly seats in the same poll.
Azmi says his year-long detention under the Terrorist And Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act at Arthur Road jail for providing air tickets to 11 conspirators of the 1993 bomb blasts case was the turning point in his life. Azmi was later acquitted.
“What I can’t stand are his injustice and the dictatorial tendencies to crush voices of dissent. Till these forces are around I am going to raise my voice,” says a dapperly dressed Azmi from his office overlooking the Arabian Sea. His stint in prison where he saw innocents being picked up made him enter politics. Raj Babbar set up a meeting in 1994 with Mulayam Singh Yadav set the ball rolling.
Since then the ‘socialist’ Azmi, with a penchant for wearing dapper shirts, has been taking up issues related to minorities and north Indians.
Azmi’s zeal in taking on ‘fascist and communal forces’ may be well known but his detractors accuse him of running with the hare and hunting with the hound.
Azmi’s men have supported the Shiv Sena in the Nashik Municipal Corporation in attaining power while detractors say he has business partnerships with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leaders.
“For people who live under the fear of being attacked any day men like Azmi provide some hope that our voices will also be heard,” Dinesh Yadav a taxi driver and a migrant from UP said.
Father of five daughters and one son, who runs a well-known restaurant and is married to actress Ayesha Takia, Azmi creates a minor flutter every time he leaves his house.
“Yes we are scared at times,” Shehna Azmi, the youngest of Azmi’s children and a baker by profession says. “But his conviction in his ideas and values helps us a bit in coping with the situation.”