The rift between Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and his party colleague Azam Khan, who also happens to be a prominent minister in the UP state cabinet, appears to be widening.
While there has been reportedly no communication between Khan and Yadav for nearly two months, their differences came to the fore only at the recent national executive of the party in Agra, where Khan was conspicuous by his absence.
An embarrassed Yadav told the inquisitive media, "Azam Khan is an old associate of mine and he can never be annoyed with me."
Urging the media not to read too much into Khan's absence, he added, "For all you know, he must have stayed back because of some other more important engagement," conveying clearly that he was clueless about his erstwhile close friend’s whereabouts.
When a scribe reminded Yadav that Khan had also skipped a series of cabinet meetings, the SP patriarch promptly passed the buck to his son, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.
"I have spoken to you as a party leader. What you are seeking to ask now, that is something the head of the government would be able to tell you," he said.
Akhilesh, in his turn, conveniently parried the question.
An insider in the government disclosed, "Azam Khan has not attended the last eight weekly cabinet meetings".
While he has not been spotted publicly with Yadav for some time, Khan did appear with Akhilesh on September 7, when the two went to the Lucknow Haj House to bid adieu to the first batch of Haj pilgrims from the state.
Known for being upright and blunt, Khan was perhaps the only senior party leader to have raised serious objections against Yadav’s two-hour long closed-door meeting with Vishwa Hindu Parishad chief Ashok Singhal, before the latter announced the right-wing organisation’s decision to undertake the 85-Kosi parikrama in Ayodhya in August.
Khan had openly snapped ties with Yadav when, in 2009, the latter had thrown open his party’s doors for ousted Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kalyan Singh, widely considered as the man who spearheaded the demolition of Babri Masjid.
Yadav invited Singh to campaign for the SP, but the move backfired as it ended up eroding the party’s large Muslim support base considerably and bringing its tally of Lok Sabha seats down from 38 to 20.
Khan also did not hesitate to raise his voice against Yadav’s one-time blue-eyed boy Amar Singh and his understudy Jaya Prada, the then party Member of Parliament from Rampur. He expressed his ire to such an extent that he had to exit the very party he had founded along with Yadav.
Eventually, Yadav realised his mistake and showed Amar Singh the door, while Khan was ushered back into the SP’s fold.
The party's most prominent Muslim leader, in turn, helped it earn rich dividends at the state assembly elections held last year.
Of late, Khan has been raising objections against Yadav’s repeated attempts to woo Delhi Jama Masjid’s Shahi Imam Ahmed Bukhari. Khan was, in fact, vocal in his opposition to the SP supremo’s decision to give Bukhari’s son-in-law a ministerial position.
Khan felt that Yadav was going overboard in his bid to woo Muslims and had resorted to mere gimmicks, instead of taking concrete steps to ensure the welfare of the minority community.
Khan's annoyance with the party leadership is bound to get exacerbated with Yadav's powerful cousin and the party’s national general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav’s declaration in Agra, "Azam should have either attended the national executive or resigned from it."
Khan’s reaction to the snide comment and the resultant political developments in the state would be interesting to watch.
Image: Mulayam Singh Yadav and Azam Khan