All hell broke loose in Rampur on Saturday morning when powerful Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan complained that seven of his buffaloes had been stolen from his farmhouse. Mercifully, the minister's melancholia over the separation may soon be over. It is believed that some of the cattle have already been found in various locations. More details are awaited.

That Azam Khan's buffaloes have been recovered isn't surprising: cattle form the largest category of stolen property that is recovered by the police, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, which tracks cattle thefts very carefully. Its data show that 50% of all stolen cattle are eventually returned to their owners.  Cattle form 1% of all stolen property in India.

If even ordinary farmers stand half a chance of getting their buffalo back after registering an FIR, Azam Khan stands more than a full chance. The real question is: why would anyone steal Azam Khan's buffaloes? Khan is said to believe that the buffaloes were stolen from his farmhouse merely to insult him, to make him out to be a laughing stock.

Khan is one of the most powerful people in India's most populous state. He holds a number of portfolios including urban development, parliamentary affairs, minority affairs and urban poverty alleviation. He is virtually the king of Rampur. Rampur is as famous for Azam Khan as it is for knives. Known for his short temper, Khan is the Muslim face of the ruling Samajwadi Party.

If even Azam Khan's buffaloes can be stolen from his farmhouse, what would the law and order situation be like in the rest of Uttar Pradesh? The thieves broke into the farmhouse in village Pasiyapura, on the outskirts of Rampur, a good part of which is leased out to a private company to run as a resort, the Humsafar Mandakini Resort. They broke the chains tethering the seven buffaloes and took them away by breaking through the boundary wall. All this on a road supposedly well guarded by the police. At least two constables are always on patrol. The police are sure the thief must be from outside Rampur. Which Rampuria would dare to steal Azam Khan's buffaloes?

All of Rampur's police, its crime branch and all its officers, have been looking for Khan's buffaloes. It's bad enough that the minister's buffaloes were stolen, it would be worse if they cannot be found. Could they already have become someone's dinner? Meat factories and slaughterhouses have been raided.

The Humsafar Resort was inaugurated a year ago by Chief Minster Akhilesh Yadav and his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav. The buffalo stable in its backyard is looked after Raees Dula, who goes back to his village in the evening. He did so on Friday evening as he usually does. By  6.30 am on Saturday when he returned, he found the buffaloes gone.

Rampur doesn't remember when it last saw a combing operation of this scale. The police brought sniffer dogs and followed what look like Azam Khan's buffaloes hoofprints. The hoofprints were visible a good 5 km away from the resort. The police surmised that they may have then been loaded on to a vehicle. While all police stations started looking out for known cattle-stealers in their areas, the slaughterhouses were also put on the list of suspects. Superintendent of Police Sadhna Goswami is leading the hunt. The district administration has joined the search. District magistrate Narendra Kumar Singh has announced a reward for anyone who can help solve the case, but did not announce the award amount.

Local papers in Rampur have reported that a meat export unit named Fair Exports is particularly high on the list of suspects because of reports that seven buffaloes were seen entering its premises on Saturday morning. The factory slaughtered them without waiting for the mandatory 24-hour period. The police say the meat factory is in violation of some other regulations too, which means it could soon be shut down.

With reports that some of the buffaloes have been found, some questions remain. How did the police determine if they were actually Azam Khan's buffaloes? Can caretaker Raees Dula really recognise them? What if random new buffaloes are bought and we're told they've been found, just to save the UP Police and Azam Khan further embarassment?

Twitter has been having a lot of fun at Azam Khan's expense. "I can totally imagine Mulayam and Akhilesh searching for Azam Khan's buffaloes like Aamir and Salman searched for uncle in Andaz Apna Apna," tweeted @GappistanRadio. "Azam Khan's buffaloes are probably just out on a junket in Europe to learn new ways of generating power from their poop," tweeted @YearOfRat, referring to Khan's recent, controversial foreign tour at the tax payers' expense. Some suggested that the buffaloes had run away to attend Narendra Modi's rally in Meerut, others said they went out looking for an election ticket from the Aam Aadmi Party.

The Samajwadi Party's fortunes are clearly far from stable.