The enduring enigma called Azam Khan

Sep 15, 2023 03:01 PM IST

In the 2024 Lok Sabha polls too, SP will use Azam and his son to campaign for the party, SP leaders indicated

Lucknow: It is now nearly 36 hours since about 19 teams of income tax officials began search operations on around 30 premises spread across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, including the Rampur home of Samajwadi Party (SP) co-founder and its most visible Muslim face Azam Khan and his associates.

SP leader Azam Khan. (HT file) PREMIUM
SP leader Azam Khan. (HT file)

The income tax authorities are tightlipped about the exercise but the members of Maulana Ali Jauhar Trust that Azam heads or his aides have mostly been searched. The ruling BJP has justified the raids while the opposition alleged political vendetta.

Khan turned 75 on August 14 and his age is less than the 80-odd cases filed against him soon after the BJP government came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2017.

Yet, battling cases, medical issues and dwindling political fortunes, Azam Khan continues to be in demand.

He has consistently featured on the Samajwadi Party list of star campaigners for all polls, including by-elections. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has allowed the leader to select his candidates in Rampur, where a series of by-polls have been held since June 2022, despite all the results going against Azam’s picks.

And for the first time in over four decades, Azam’s family has no political representation in the Muslim-majority Rampur in western Uttar Pradesh.

Nevertheless, Samajwadi Party general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav’s vigorous defence of Azam makes it apparent that he continues to be important in the SP’s scheme of things for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

“Never before have I seen politics of such nature. He (Azam) is a man of value and has shown great character and composure in the face of extreme hardship inflicted on him by the present regime. He leads a spartan life and as for the university, its funds and property are all in the public domain and they can’t be treated as his property,” Yadav said.

In the 2024 Lok Sabha polls too, SP will use Azam and his son to campaign for the party, SP leaders indicated.

However, the BJP has been chipping away at Azam’s political base. Some of Azam’s closest aides in Rampur, like Fasahat Khan, who had earlier accused the SP leadership of ignoring “Muslims” and not doing “enough” for Azam Khan in his hour of crisis, have since joined the BJP.

There is no way to ignore the politically influential but ailing Khan whose son Abdullah claims he was ill-treated during his days in prison and miraculously survived.

“Providence saved him,” said Abdullah, while accusing the BJP of vendetta politics against the veteran politician.

He feels that most cases against his father were politically motivated.

Azam is now in the eye of the storm over donations made for the Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar University set up by the Trust in the same name in 2006. BJP lawmaker Akash Saxena, who won the Rampur (Sadar) assembly seat in December 2022 after Azam Khan’s disqualification from the state assembly, claims that the Khan’s carefully crafted image of a messiah of the poor and a ‘faqeer (simpleton)’ is coming unstuck now.

“Earlier none dared to inquire into the ill-doings. There was a time when police would be used to search for his buffaloes. Now, donations made to the Ali Jauhar Trust that runs Jauhar University are being probed. We had filed a complaint with the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) in 2021 that donations were mostly fake and requested a probe. Azam should be taxed based on new and fresh evaluation of his property,” said Saxena who has been responsible for a majority of the cases registered against the SP veteran.

To show solidarity with Azam, Samajwadi Party ally and Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Jayant Chaudhary had paid a visit to Azam’s family in April 2022 and now, the RLD is openly siding with the veteran.

Whatever the outcome of the income tax probe, even Azam’s critics maintain that if he remains fit, he will influence electoral politics of the west UP region, especially in and around Rampur.

Azam’s appeal cuts across party lines. This was apparent when during his period in jail. Back then, amid a buzz about the SP not doing enough for Azam, BJP MP from Kaiserganj Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh had spoken in his favour.

“He (Azam) is a 10-term MLA, a former MP of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. I think the party (SP) shouldn’t discard him,” the BJP MP had said.

“The whole exercise is to break Azam sahib. Imagine he isn’t a voter in his own constituency,” an Azam supporter said on the phone from Rampur. Will he campaign in the 2024 polls?

“Insha Allah, he will contest and win,” he said.

Much will, however, depend on the outcome of the cases against him.

As of now, despite a Rampur court acquitting Azam in a 2019 hate speech case, which led to him being disqualified as an MLA from Rampur (Sadar), the UP government has moved the high court against the acquittal.

In July this year, Azam was convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in another hate speech case before income tax officials began search operations against him.

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    Manish Chandra Pandey is a Lucknow-based Senior Assistant Editor with Hindustan Times’ political bureau in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Along with political reporting, he loves to write offbeat/human interest stories that people connect with. Manish also covers departments. He feels he has a lot to learn not just from veterans, but also from newcomers who make him realise that there is so much to unlearn.

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