Home Politics Nawabs’ nemesis, SP’s Muslim face & ‘sexist’ — Azam Khan’s political rollercoaster...

Nawabs’ nemesis, SP’s Muslim face & ‘sexist’ — Azam Khan’s political rollercoaster ride

The veteran Samajwadi Party leader, who has 93 criminal cases against him, was sentenced to 3 years in prison in a 2019 hate speech case and disqualified from UP assembly Friday.

File photo of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
File photo of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Lucknow: One of the most prominent leaders of the Samajwadi Party (SP) — a 10-time MLA, two-time MP from Rampur, and former cabinet minister in the Uttar Pradesh government — Azam Khan was disqualified from the UP assembly Friday, a day after an MP/MLA court convicted him in a 2019 hate speech case.

During the 2019 Lok Sabha poll campaign, Khan had used provocative remarks against the then Rampur district magistrate Aunjaneya Kumar Singh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress candidate Sanjay Kapoor.

The court Thursday sentenced the SP leader to three years imprisonment, but granted him bail to file an appeal against the conviction within a week’s time.

Speaking to ThePrint, a source close to Khan said they will move the High Court.

Khan lost his assembly membership because, according to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, if an MLA, MLC or MP is convicted in a criminal case and gets jailed for a minimum of two years then he/she loses membership of the house with immediate effect.

Khan has as many as 93 criminal cases registered against him, 87 of which were registered after 2017 (during the BJP government’s tenure in the state), according to his 2022 election affidavit.

Lashing out at the state BJP government Saturday, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said that Khan had “become an eyesore” for the BJP in UP since “he (Khan) objects to their politics of hatred and communalism”.

However, from making sexist comments against women MPs Jaya Prada (2019) and Rama Devi (2019) to asking Yogi Adityanath (2016) to prove his masculinity by getting married, the veteran SP leader is no stranger to controversy.

In 2020, while talking about his former SP colleague and then BJP leader Jaya Prada, Khan had said, “I brought her (Jaya Prada) to Rampur. You are a witness that I did not allow anyone to touch her body. It took you 17 years to identify her real face but I got to know in 17 days that she wears khaki underwear.”

After Khan lost his assembly membership, Jaya Prada, in a statement issued Saturday, said the SP leader had been punished for his misdeeds. “There are disagreements between people in politics, but there should not be arrogance of power. Such arrogance that you even forget respect for women and start being unjust towards the poor and oppressed.”

ThePrint looks back at the SP leader’s rise and clout in UP politics.

Also readWhat did Akhilesh & Azam discuss at hospital meet amid talk of rift? It ‘wasn’t all personal’

Background and rise to political power

Ten-time MLA from Rampur, Azam Khan has been an MP from Rampur Lok Sabha constituency twice and also served as a cabinet minister in the Mulayam Singh Yadav government (between 2003 and 2007) and the Akhilesh Yadav governments (2012-2017) in the state.

Khan has a degree in law from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and started his political career with the Janata Party (Secular), which was renamed the Lok Dal ahead of the 1980 Lok Sabha elections. After the amalgamation of the Janata Party factions on 11 October 1988, Khan became a member of the Janata Dal during his third term as an MLA. Known for his exceptional grasp on Urdu and “controversial and provocative speeches”, Khan has been a member of the SP since 1993.

According to political observers, Khan gained influence in the state’s Rampur constituency on the back of his “Nawab vs Awaam” (royalty vs the common people) narrative there, which he built by taking up issues of beedi-rollers and textile workers in the district in the 1980s.

He waged a war against the erstwhile nawabs or royal family of Rampur — the nawabs are Shias while the majority population is Sunni. The families of Azam Khan and the titular nawab of Rampur and Congress leader Kazim Ali Khan, have been political rivals for decades and in the March 2022 assembly polls, too, Khan, who was in jail, defeated Kazim to win the Rampur constituency.

Zameer Naqvi, a Lucknow-based activist and one of the complainants against Azam (in a case related to land grabbing), told ThePrint that Khan attempted a Shia-Sunni divide on ground, which worked for him.

The nawabs have accused Azam of undoing the royal history, by removing nameplates with the names of Nawabs at intersections and demolishing gates of the city.

‘Face’ of Muslims, clout & controversies  

By the 1990s, Khan had projected himself as a leader of the Muslim population in the state — an image encashed by the SP, say political experts.

Dr Mukul Srivastava, professor and head of department of journalism and mass communication, Lucknow University, told ThePrint that the police firings on kar sevaks in Ayodhya in October 1990 under the Mulayam Singh Yadav government in the state brought the Muslim community closer to the SP.

“Growth of Azam’s influence coincided with the growth of the SP in UP politics. Azam was an educated person, but would still make controversial statements to stay in the limelight. His community felt there was someone from among them who was speaking out and Azam became a face of Sunni Muslims. The SP used him to create a Muslim votebank,” he said.

Srivastava noted that the benefits of governance were limited to certain areas and Azam’s fight for Muslims, who form 19 per cent of UP’s population (according to 2011 Census data), was only a “symbolic one”.

“Azam Khan was the PWD (Public Works Department) and urban development minister during the SP rule (under both Mulayam and Akhilesh’s governments), but the benefits of the development were mostly limited to his own constituencies, while others felt neglected and got disgruntled. The Jauhar University (Mohammad Ali Jauhar University set up in Rampur in 2006) was developed into a fiefdom, where he ensured that he is appointed as chancellor for life and his family members, too, held key posts,” Srivastava alleged.

Ejaz Abbas Naqvi, a former member of the Central Waqf Council, told ThePrint that changes were made in the Mohammad Ali Jauhar University (Amendment) Bill to ensure an arrangement for Khan to remain its pro-chancellor for life.

“His wife, who was hardly active in politics, was sent to Rajya Sabha because of his influence in the SP. His controversial comments would ensure he remains in the limelight and focus is shifted from real issues,” Naqvi said.

In 2013, the then UP CM Akhilesh Yadav cancelled his address at Harvard university on Kumbh Mela arrangements, following Khan’s frisking and questioning at the Logan International airport, Boston, US.

UP police went into a tizzy in 2014 when seven buffaloes were robbed from the then minister’s home. After a manhunt was launched for his bovines, they were finally recovered, but three cops were removed for “dereliction of duty”.

“Is this news? I thank the media for making it news,” Khan had said with a scoff after the incident made headlines.

Ahead of the 2017 UP assembly polls, at an event in 2016, Azam Khan sparked a row by asking the then BJP leader and present UP CM Yogi Adityanath to prove his masculinity by getting married.

The politician is also known for his sexist comments about women leaders including MP Rama Devi and BJP leader Jaya Prada.

In 2019, the then MP had told fellow parliamentarian Rama Devi, “I like you so much that I wish to look into your eyes and keep looking at you”. The comment was made in Parliament while Devi was chairing proceedings in the House in the absence of speaker Om Birla.

Also Read: It is Azam Khan, and not Owaisi, who is BJP’s permanent target

Cases and what complainants say

According to an affidavit filed by Khan ahead of the 2022 UP election, there were a total of 87 cases registered against him at the time. Of these, 84 had been filed since the coming of the BJP government in the state in 2017. The number of cases has since gone up to 93, according to the UP government affidavit filed in the Supreme Court. 

Of the 93 criminal cases against the SP leader, as many as 31 are related to issues of the Jauhar University, including land grabbing. About 26 cases were registered against him for allegedly conspiring to demolish the homes of locals in Rampur’s Dungarpur area in March 2016 and, in others, Khan has been accused of stealing, cheating and forgery.

In May, the Supreme Court granted interim bail to Khan in a case of land grabbing, paving the way for his release from jail where he had been incarcerated for 27 months. Already on bail in 87 cases, Khan had approached the top court after the Allahabad HC did not hear his bail application.  

Khan’s lawyer alleged the cases were part of a political witch-hunt by the BJP-led Uttar Pradesh government. In an interview to ThePrint in July, Khan had said that he was denied bail by lower courts because he was “Azam Khan” and “a Muslim”.

But those fighting against Azam allege “oppression” at the hands of the SP leader.

Rampur-based activist Faisal Lala who has filed several cases against Khan and who fought against him on an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket during the 2022 assembly elections, told ThePrint that the SP leader had faced nothing in comparison to the atrocities he had meted out to a section of people in Rampur.

“The houses of Ghosi tribals were demolished because he [Azam Khan] wanted to acquire the yateemkhana (orphanage) land,” alleged Lala.

The Ghosi tribals were living on the land allotted for a yateemkhana, or an orphanage, that could not be built. It was occupied for the construction of Rampur Public School run by Azam’s Jauhar Trust.

“The houses of people of Dungarpur were demolished as the land was located in prime location. Farmers who refused to give up their land for the Jauhar University were harassed and framed in fake cases. I took up their cases with the governor Ram Naik after which a false case was lodged against me for attacking his people… Another case of looting a bank was lodged against me which was subsequently quashed by the High Court,” he said. “Azam has only lost his status as an MLA and continues to be economically strong. What atrocity has he faced?”

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

Also Read: What is the 88th case against Azam Khan that could extend his stay in Sitapur jail