Mulayam rides a buggy on b'day, Azam triggers controversy over funds

Rampur(UP): SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav rode an imported Victorian-style 'buggy' today and around 40 ministers gathered for his 75th mega birthday bash, fuelling criticism that was met with a caustic response from Azam Khan that Taliban and Dawood Ibrahim provided funds for the event.

Thousands of Azam's supporters accompanied the 'buggy' (horse-driven carriage) carrying Mulayam, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav besides Khan, a state minister, as it proceeded towards the venue--Jauhar University--where the SP chief will celebrate his birthday by cutting a 75-feet-long cake at midnight.

Mulayam Singh YadavMulayam Singh Yadav

The buggy is stated to have been imported from London. The two-day birthday celebrations starting today was organised by the ruling party in the constituency of Khan, a close aide of Mulayam, in Rampur. Khan is the Chancellor of Jauhar university. As the celebrations were set in motion after Mulayam's arrival here, Azam's comments over the funding fuelled a controversy.

When questioned about the funding for the grand event, an irate Khan, who has left no stone unturned to make the celebrations successful, said money has come from Taliban, a terror group and Dawood Ibrahim, an underworld don.

"Why does it matter where the money for celebrations is coming from? Some have come from Taliban, some from Abu Salem, soem from Dawood(Ibrahim), some from terrorists...," he said sarcastically. Around 40 ministers--two-third of the strength of the Akhilesh ministry--are reportedly in attendance for the birthday celebrations. "Mulayam Singh Yadav is celebrating his birthday on the suffering of the people of the state," said BSP leader Sudhindra Bhadoria while Vijay Pathak of BJP said it is wasteful expenditure.

SP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia defended the birthday bash, saying Mulayam is the "tallest leader" of the country and that people are celebrating his struggle.

Azam had kicked up a row yesterday when he suggested that the Taj Mahal, the monument of love in Agra, and the income generated through it should be handed over to the Wakf Board contending that the monument is a mausoleum. "Taj Mahal is a mausoleum and each mausoleum is 'Waqf' and comes under the Sunni Central Waqf Board," he had said. Mulayam and his son Akhilesh earlier alighted at Mundha Pandey from a special plane and were garlanded by scores of dignitaries.

Thousands of students and SP activists shouted 'netaji zindabad' slogans. The procession passed through 200 welcome gates especially erected with flowers and other decoration material, while the surroundings glittered with electric lights in an atmosphere reminiscent of the old traditions of Nawabs being accorded a grand welcome to the city.

Bunches of red and white balloons lined spruced-up roads along with big banners in Rampur wishing Mulayam. Police personnel in large number arrived from various districts of the state and have been deployed at various points to keep a vigil throughout the procession route.

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