Abdulla Azam Khan, the MLA son of Azam Khan, has launched a bicycle rally in Rampur’s Topkhana area after the Election Commission banned his father from campaigning for three days. Azam Khan, the Samajwadi Party’s candidate from Rampur in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, faced EC’s wrath after his "misogynistic" remarks against rival BJP candidate Jaya Prada.
Abdulla told reporters, "Kendra sarkar aur kuchh log Musalmanon, pichadon aur Daliton kee awaaz band karna chahte hain, magar vo kamyaab nahin honge (The central government and some people want to curb the voices of Muslims, OBCs and Dalits, but they will not be successful)."
This was only a few days after his father, while referring to the district magistrate, had said: "Collector se mat dariye, Dekhe hain Mayawati ji ke photo, kaise bade bade officer rumal nikalkar joote saaf karte hain unke, haan unhi se hai gathbandhan, unhi se joote saaf karaunga inke (Don’t fear the collector, have you seen the photos where these officers are seen polishing Mayawati’s shoes? I will get them to polish her shoes again)."
The campaigning style of the father-son duo is reflective of the fact that in this Muslim majority Lok Sabha constituency, support from OBCs (particularly Yadavs) and Scheduled Castes (particularly Jatavs) could be a big push for Azam, who is making his debut in parliamentary elections.
An MLA for nine terms since 1980, except in 1996 Assembly elections when he lost to Congress, Azam currently represents the Rampur assembly segment; his son Abdulla, 28, is MLA from Swar-Tanda assembly segment.
In all Lok Sabha elections since 1957, somebody from "Noor Mahal"-the name of the Rampur’s royal family’s place-has always been in the fray. The exceptions were in 1952 when Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had contested from here, and this time when Congress has chosen to field AICC secretary Sanjay Kapur over Begum Noorbano of the royal family, a two-time MP (1996 and 1999), and her husband Zulfikar Ali Khan alias Mikki Miyan who has represented this seat five times in Lok Sabha.
Though the absence of a candidate from Rampur royal family, with whom Azam Khan has a very bitter relationship, has made it a little easy for the SP candidate to corner a large chunk of Muslim votes, the alignment of his opponents with the Congress could queer his pitch.
Nawab Kazim Ali Khan alias Naved Miyan, son of Begum Noorbano, a five-time MLA from different parties, who contested 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Rampur on Congress ticket, and joined BSP in 2017-is back in Congress. Similarly, Tanveer Ahmed, who contested against Azam Khan from Rampur assembly seat in 2017 assembly elections on BSP ticket, has also recently joined Congress as BSP sealed a pact with SP.
All these factors may attract some Muslims towards Congress and Azam wants to compensate the loss with the communities that are core voters of SP and BSP.
Turks’ votes among Muslims are nearly 1.45 lakh and they are considered against Azam Khan. Moreover, Pathans’ total vote in Rampur is nearly 1.35 lakh and a small number of them, who are elite, never liked Azam. While they may not go with the BJP but are most likely to align with the Congress candidate — a move that may strengthen the prospects of BJP candidate Jaya Prada.
In many areas of Rampur, the polarisation of Muslims in favour of Azam Khan looks clear. The Indian Express visited a village named Parchai on Rampur-Swar road nearly 15 km from Rampur city, Arvind Jatav, a tea stall owner by the roadside, and Charan Singh Jatav, a customer at the tea stall, said they will vote for the BJP.
Imran Khan, of the same village, who voted for BSP in last elections, says, "I will vote for gathbandhan candidate Azam Khan, there is no doubt about it."
Says Charan Singh Jatav: "I got Rs 12,000 for the toilet and an LPG connection that was a dream for my family so far. If there was a BSP candidate, then we would have voted for him without any ifs and buts but now we are going to vote for BJP."
At Ajitpur village on Rampur-Shahbad road, nearly 5 km from Rampur, a group of Muslims were busy preparing for the reception of a baraat when The Indian Express spoke to them. One Mohammed Umar said: "At the village level, we (Muslims) are pided into many groups and support different parties in others elections but for Azam saheb we are united and we will vote for him."
At Chikna village, dominated by Yadavs and located nearly 10 km from Rampur, Shiv Kumar Yadav said: "For years we voted for Samajwadi Party in the name of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav but our interests were never taken care of by Azam Khan. He never helps us in need. Which is why we are going to vote for BJP this time."
Pintu Jatav, a Dalit tailor, at Faizpur village on Rampur-Shahbad road, said: "We are with the decision taken by Behan ji (Mayawati). We will vote for alliance candidate."
Azam Khan’s worry is not only the alignments of his Muslim opponents with the Congress but also the gradual consolidation of Hindus in favour of Jaya Prada. The BJP candidate had been a Lok Sabha MP from here twice (2004 and 2009) from Azam’s party though the two never shared good relations.
Jaya Prada, 57, whose election campaign looks grossly mismanaged, normally travels the entire day in different parts of the constituency and addresses small gatherings. She speaks about the work she had done in Rampur in her two tenures as MP, "bad behaviour" of Azam, work done by NDA government under Narendra Modi among other things.
Says a local BJP leader, "All prominent leaders of my party try to be with her and other preparations of election are affected. We can hope that only polarisation against Azam will help her win." Contradicts Chandramohan, BJP’s election in charge of Rampur, "All is going well. We will win here."
In the given situation, Azam needs a part of Hindu votes very desperately. Besides Yadavs and Jatavs, there are nearly 1.115 lakh Lodh, nearly 80,000 Saini, nearly 35,000 Pal (Gaderia or Sheferred), nearly 30,000 Kashyap and nearly 70,000 Kurmis. Among the total votes of 16.68 lakh nearly 8.41 lakh are Muslims and nearly 8.26 lakh are Hindus in total. While more than 50 per cent are Muslim votes, among others, nearly 50,000 are Yadavs and nearly 1.5 lakh Jatavs.
Akhilesh and Mayawati have a joint rally here on Saturday (April 20) and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath will address a BJP rally on Sunday (April 21), the last day of the campaign.
Dr Nepal Singh (BJP): 358616 (37.42 %)
Naseer Ahmad Khan (SP): 335181 (34.98 %)
Nawab Kazim Ali Khan (Congress): 156466 (16.33 %)
Jaya Prada (SP): 230724 (38.06 %)
Begum Noor Bano (Congress): 199793 (32.95 %)
Ghan Shyam Singh Lodhi (BSP): 95132 (15.69 %)