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Abu Azmi: The new Muslim face of the Samajwadi party

By Sharat Pradhan
November 17, 2009 22:11 IST
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The booing  and beating Maharashtra Navnirman Sena Legislators in Mumbai has brought rich dividends for  Samajwadi Party's Maharashtra chief Abu Azmi , who has been turned into the party's hero.

The Samajwadi Party is all set to cast him as the party's new Muslim mascot–a role so far played by Azam Khan, whose differences with general secretary Amar Singh, provoked him to part ways with SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav.

While any rapproachment between the two remained a distant possibility, what further soured the relationship between the two was Mulayam's sudden bonhomie with Bhartiya Janata Party rebel Kalyan Singh, whose identity as the man behind the demolition of Babri Masjid was totally unacceptable to Azam Khan.

Mulayam's eventual parting of ways with Kalyan on Saturday, was rather late in the day. What became amply evident was that Kalyan's 11- month long association with SP had proved counter-productive for Mulayam–in terms of his party losing out heavily on its otherwise strong Muslim base.

Azmi, who had not looked beyond Mumbai, suddenly shot into the spotlight, when he defied Maharashtra Navnirman Sena  chief Raj Thakeray's diktat to take oath in the state assembly in Marathi. Azmi's insistence on taking the oath in Hindi landed him much trouble with MNS members resorting to violence on the floor of the house.

Reacting to the incident , Mulayam promptly decided to felicitate Azmi at a special function in Lucknow. Amar Singh's fad for Bollywood surprisingly did not go beyond the presence of just Jaya Bachchan who made it a point be present on the occasion. The other Bollywood-star turned MP Jaya Prada was however conspicuous by her absence.

The Samajwadi Party's headquarters in Lucknow was decked up. Azmi was welcomed with much fanfare – band in attendance and drums being beaten to the hilt , amidst echoing cries of "Abu Azmi zindabad"

Even as the occasion was ostensibly meant to honour Azmi, the SP leadership's intent to woo back Muslims was too blatant to be overlooked. In his nearly hour-long address, Azmi  made it a  point to repeatedly eulogise Mulayam as the "only true messiah of Muslims in the country". He went about recounting how Mulayam had always taken the initiative to champion the cause of Muslims.

Azmi went a step further by lashing out at Azam Khan for "betraying" Mulayam. "There was a time when Azam Khan used to say that if anyone dared stare at Mulayam, he would pull out that person's eye ; and simply because he was denied one ticket, he deserted Mulayam ; isn't that really bad on his part?", asked Azmi.

Embarking on the Kalyan Singh issue, Azmi was quick to echo what his political mentors–Mulayam and Amar–had been pleading for nearly one year . "There is no denying that SP had roped in Kalyan Singh with the sole objective of weakening  BJP and  the purpose was well served," Azmi said.

Referring to the assault by Raj Thackeray's men , Azmi sought to clarify, "it was not as if I was not in a position to repay Thackeray in the same coin, but what prevented me from doing so were the traditions and culture I have imbibed under Mulayam Singh Yadav's leadership."

Amar Singh hailed Azmi for taking to the Gandhian path and having refrained from any kind of retaliation. "Those who allow themselves to be beaten emerge as heros", Singh quipped.

As if to ratify the new profile conferred on Abu Azmi, SP chief  Mulayam said that Azmi's  felicitation in Lucknow was just the beginning of a series. "We will felicitate Azmi in at least five different cities; after all he has dared all in the larger interest
of upholding the prestige of the national language," declared Mulayam, while hailing him for  "showing exemplary courage by defying the Thackerays and going ahead with his oath in Hindi."

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Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow