Organised the Maha Kumbh

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 25, 2013 20:22 hrs

During a visit to Allahabad, Khan warned officers that those found guilty of negligence would be jailed

The task of ensuring that the Maha Kumbh, during which a sea of devout Hindus will come to Allahabad to wash away their sins in the Ganga, goes without a hitch has been given to a devout Muslim: Mohammad Azam Khan, 64, the urban development minister of Uttar Pradesh, and the tallest Muslim leader across parties in the state. As many as 100 million people are expected to visit the city during the 55-day mela that began on January 14. It is a logistical and security nightmare. If it concludes peacefully, Khan will have proven his administrative skills.

So far, Khan has been known only as the Muslim face of Samajwadi Party, of which be is one of the founder members. Khan has always been known as blunt, one who doesn’t believe in mincing his words. Though a leader of Muslims, for instance, Khan is known for his aversion of the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid in Delhi and Begum Noor Bano of the former royal family of Rampur.

Since the party counts Muslims as its vote bank, Khan’s stock has always been high. But it fell in May 2009 when Mulayam Singh Yadav, the party chief, expelled him for six years for anti-party activities. Khan was unhappy that the party had given Jaya Prada the ticket to fight the general elections from Rampur and had taken in Kalyan Singh, a former right-wing chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. This alliance had hurt the Samajwadi Party in the elections: Muslims chose to vote for others. Khan made his displeasure felt.

He also had a running feud with Amar Singh, then the general secretary of the party. All these factors contributed to his expulsion. The ice melted only after Amar Singh drifted away from the Samajwadi Party. In December 2010, Khan rejoined the party. After Samajwadi Party’s thumping victory in the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly last year, it was Khan who proposed Akhilesh Yadav’s name as chief minister.

Naturally, his bluntness remains intact. In July 2012, Khan threatened to resign from the Uttar Pradesh cabinet after Akhilesh divested him of his charge of Meerut district; the order was revoked within a day. In August, Khan had recommended the suspension of Lucknow municipal commissioner N P Singh for dereliction of duty after he saw waterlogging and garbage spread across important intersections in the city. Initially, the state government resisted the order and let Singh continue in office. But, a couple of weeks later, he was removed from the post.

Similarly, during a visit to Allahabad before the start of the Maha Kumbh, Khan had warned that officers found guilty of negligence would be sent to jail. He had equipped the divisional commissioner of Allahabad with the power to terminate the services of such officials. Khan would fix deadlines for the completion of civic works and take to task officials who didn’t move fast.

A “city within a city” has been created for the event. The Maha Kumbh precinct has its own administrative and police machinery comprising a separate district magistrate and senior superintendent of police for the entire duration of the fair. An area spread over 2,000 hectares has been done up for the pilgrims. The Centre has allocated Rs 800 crore for the event. According to Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, the Mahakumbh is likely to generate Rs 12,000 crore of revenue and create 600,000 jobs.

“Khan would definitely like to take the credit for the successful completion of the Maha Kumbh. Thankfully barring one instance, when a massive stampede happened in Nashik, all other Kumbhs have largely been successful,” says senior political commentator Sharat Pradhan.

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