‘SP doesn’t want a Muslim face’? Removal of Muslim politician from photo stirs row

Akhilesh Yadav

Recently, a video clip of removing a Muslim politician from the picture at the stage of Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav has gone viral on social media. In the video clip, a bearded man, who is wearing Payjama-Kurta and Skull-cap, came to take a photo with a group of people including Yadav at the stage. But, one leader in the group pushed away the bearded man from the picture, and then, he was removed from the scene.

After the video surfaced on social media, it has created controversy with many pointing out the mistreatment by the SP with the Muslim man. The video has been widely shared raising questions over a Muslim’s value in eyes of the Samajwadi Party and other secular parties.

Maktoob identified the man, who was removed from the picture. He is Majid Chouhan from Meerut’s Siwal Khas constituency. He has been associated with the SP for the last 18-20 years since he was 15. In 2012, Majid was appointed as district president of the party from Meerut. He was state secretary in 2015 and had fought Zilla panchayat elections for the SP. Majid is currently making preparations to contest the upcoming assembly elections on the ticket of the SP.

The incident of removing Majid from the picture is of the ‘Kashyap Sammelan’ held in Muzaffarnagar’s Budhana on 11 November. Political parties are reaching out to the Kashyap community, categorised as Other Backward Classes in Uttar Pradesh, ahead of the 2022 state elections.

Talking to Maktoob about the removal of him from the picture, Majid said that he had gone to attend the event at the direction of party chief Akhilesh Yadav.

“As far as the photo is concerned, it was of the moment when people from Kashyap society were gifting swords to the national president. When I went to pose for the group picture, one person in the group tried to push me aside because he was not coming into the focus of the camera. When I moved back, the security removed me from there,” said Majid.

Majid, who was all praise for Yadav and his secular behavior, rejected the criticism that he was removed because the party does not want to show a Muslim face in the picture. He also said that he does not know where the video came from. “We have observed that our national president gives equal respect to everyone whether he is from any caste and religion,” he said.

Sharat Pradhan, a journalist and political commentator based in Lucknow, feels that it is not possible that Akhilesh can behave in such a way with his Muslim leaders as he knows that he has a large chunk of voters from the Muslim community.

“This could be the conspiracy hatched by the BJP to defame the SP among the Muslim community. It is necessary to verify whether this man (Chouhan) is still with the Samajwadi party (SP),” said Pradhan.

Pradhan said that Akhilesh is the only one who can challenge the BJP this time. “We should keep away from such propaganda hatched by the BJP,” he said.

Muslims, who account for 20 % of UP’s population, largely vote for the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and Congress. 

However, Alishan Jafri, a journalist based in New Delhi, has a different take on this issue. “The party which wants to take the votes of Muslims wants to sideline the issues of Muslims from public discussion because it makes them uncomfortable. They also ignore Muslim leaders and Muslims who look visibly Muslim. They think that a Muslim man having a beard and wearing a skull cap would make a lot of voters upset,” said Jafri commenting on the video.

The problem with the secular parties is that they have accepted terms set by the BJP-RSS for them. If Akhilesh Yadav’s government comes after defeating the BJP in UP, there would not be any fundamental changes. The reason is that there is no party including the SP which is ready to challenge the BJP ideologically, he said.

Some Muslim activists and politicians mainly belonging to All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen had earlier pointed out that several Muslims were killed in the police encounter and custody in Uttar Pradesh. But Yadav had not visited their family members. However, he visited the family members of Manish Gupta who was killed by UP Police, and also announced a compensation of Rs. 20 lakh for the family members. AIMIM chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi targeted Samajwadi Party in this regard. 

Akhilesh Yadav even did not take up the issue of imprisoning his party’s prominent Muslim leader Azam Khan and his family members and shutting down the Mohmmed Ali Johar University by the BJP government in the state, critics say.