By Muhammad Mazhar Saleem
Rampur (UP), Dec 2 (PTI) Sleepy town Rampur is witnessing a gripping electoral battle where beleaguered Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan as a "proxy" candidate is working hard to keep his clout intact while BJP buoyed by a victory in the recent parliamentary bypoll is trying to keep up the momentum of weaning away the place from his influence.
While Samajwadi Party has fielded Khan's confidant Asim Raza, the BJP has chosen the SP leader's detractor Akash Saxena for the December 5 Rampur Sadar assembly bypoll necessitated by disqualification of Khan after a court ruling in a hate speech case.
Out on bail after being lodged in jail for more than two years in different cases, Khan, considered as "Muslim face" of the SP since the days of Mulayam Singh Yadav, is criss-crossing the constituency with an emotional appeal to fight against alleged atrocity meted out to him by the BJP government on the basis of "false" charges.
The BJP, on the other hand, is highlighting the benefits of "double-engine" government for the area and attacking Khan for winning support of Muslims all these years through "religious appeals" and depriving the place of development despite being in power for long during his nearly five decades of political career.
After his disqualification as an MLA in the wake of a Rampur court convicting him and awarding three-year imprisonment in a 2019 hate speech case, the election officials recently removed Khan’s name from the electoral roll of Rampur assembly constituency.
After initial campaigning by Khan, the election heat rose in Rampur with SP president Akhilesh Yadav taking out time from his busy schedule in Mainpuri Lok Sabha byelection to address a rally in Rampur with Khan and Dalit leader Chandrasekhar Azad on Thursday.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is slated to campaign in Rampur on Friday.
According to locals, development is a major issue in the bypoll this time.
Achhan Khan, a resident of Bajauri Tola, a stronghold of Khan, says, "We have been with Azam Khan for 40 years. But the BJP government has given us houses. We are farmers, and are getting Kisan Samman Nidhi. Khan did not get us all these is. This time we are with the BJP."
Mohammad Nawaz, a BEd student living in the Civil Lines area, says that it is good to walk in the direction in which the wind blows. BJP is raising the issue of development of Rampur which the district needs.
"The youth need jobs, but there is an employment crisis in Rampur. This is the reason why the youth here have to go abroad in search of a job," says Nawaz.
Madanlal Arora, who runs a restaurant in the Civil Lines area, says that many people close to Azam Khan will support BJP this time, which can make a difference in the election.
"Also, Azam Khan himself is not standing in the bypoll. Had he been there, it would have been a different matter," says Arora, adding that Asim Raja doesn't have Khan's stature.
However, there is a section of the voters who stand firmly with Azam Khan.
E-rickshaw driver Shannu Khan says, "Azam Khan has given us a chance to live life with dignity, so we can never leave his side. No matter how much someone persuades us, we will not change our mind."
Going by the election atmosphere in Rampur, the contest is being seen as Azam Khan versus BJP.
BJP is targeting Khan instead of SP's candidate Asim Raja, focusing the fight on the 10-time MLA from the seat.
In this election, Khan's popularity is at stake. He is going door-to-door without any fanfare and appealing to the people to vote for the SP candidate.
According to a close aide of Khan, the former minister is also visiting those streets of Rampur seeking votes for Asim Raja, where he had not even set foot in two-and-a-half decades.
The BJP is trying to woo Pasmanda (backward) Muslims who constitute a sizeable section of the minority community. Pasmanda Muslims have benefitted from the BJP government during the Covid pandemic and housing for the poor.
Former Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a former MP from Rampur, is attending Pasmanda meets and also hosting "khichdi panchayat" in rural areas to win over the beneficiaries among the Muslims in rural areas.
In these panchayats, people are being told about the work done by the BJP government for them. The party seems to be getting good results from this.
Mayawati's BSP and Congress are not contesting the bypoll, thus making it a direct fight between the SP and the BJP. PTI SLM CDN SNS SNS KVK