The Muslim face of the Samajwadi Party, Azam Khan, who was the mainstay of its Lok Sabha campaign until he was banned by the Election Commission, appears to have been sidelined in the bypoll campaign.
A Lok Sabha and 11 assembly seats are heading for bypolls and the party has no signs of banking on Azam’s oratory skills, apparently for fear of polarising voters to the opposition’s advantage. Mulayam Singh Yadav has kept him out of the the list of 23 ministers he has put in charge of the 12 constituencies.
Azam was such an important presence during the Lok Sabha polls that he spoke after Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav at public rallies. He had campaigned extensively until the Election Commission banned him for controversial remarks he made on the Kargil war.
“Azam has the ability to swing Muslim votes with his emotional speeches,” a senior SP functionary told The Indian Express. “But in the Lok Sabha polls, the speeches ended up polarising Hindu voters against the SP. His very presence on bypoll campaigns would have given BJP leaders an opportunity to polarise voters on lines of religion.”
“We don’t want Azam for our election,” an SP candidate spelt it out. “The atmosphere in UP is so charged that even if Muslims turn out in good numbers at the polling booth, the other community will come out in larger numbers against the SP. It is better to play it safe and prevent polarisation.”
Azam has, in fact, been isolated from all poll-related activities. Mulayam has held three meetings with several ministers on bypoll strategies, but Azam was not invited to any. The next such meeting is scheduled on Friday. Party sources said Azam has not been approached even for Bijnor, Saharanpur and Thakurdwara seats, which have large Muslim populations.
Apart from putting 23 ministers in charge of constituencies, the party has also given responsibilities to MLCs Aseem Yadav and Naresh Uttam and a few MLAs, with Azam not figuring in such assignments either. Akhilesh, who is also the state president of the party, has sent letters to SP leaders at district level urging them to ensure of SP candidates’ victory. In Mainpuri, where Mulayam’s grand-nephew Tej Pratap Singh is contesting, various poll duties have been assigned to Shivpal Yadav, Dharmendra Yadav and Naresh Uttam.
Azam, meanwhile, has been travelling across the state and attending various functions, but has not visited any district that will have a bypoll. The SP’s state office confirmed there has been no request from any candidate for Azam to address a meeting.