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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Game on in Rampur as BJP fields Azam Khan bete noire in his backyard

Since the BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, the family of the senior Samajwadi Party leader has had 81 cases lodged against it (Khan is facing 103 in total).

Written by Manish Sahu | Lucknow |
Updated: January 20, 2022 12:09:38 pm
Abdullah Azam Khan with Akhilesh Yadav (on left) and BJP candidate for Rampur Sadar, Akash Saxena

THE Rampur hot seat is headed for yet another fiery contest, with Abdullah Azam Khan out on bail in time for the elections, and the BJP fielding the man responsible for almost half the cases the Mohammad Azam Khan family and its scion are fighting, as its candidate.

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Since the BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, the family of the senior Samajwadi Party leader has had 81 cases lodged against it (Khan is facing 103 in total). In some of these 81 cases, Khan’s wife Tanzeen Fatima, the current sitting MLA from Rampur Sadar, and their son Abdullah are co-accused. Fatima got bail in December 2020, and Abdullah on January 15. Khan, however, remains in jail since February 2020.

The BJP’s candidate for Rampur Sadar, Akash Saxena, 46, the son of a four-time BJP MLA, claims to be behind 30 of the FIRs lodged against Khan, and says others came forward to file their complaints against the SP leader at his behest. Given Y-category security under the Yogi Adityanath government, Saxena, who runs an export business and claims to be a life-long RSS worker, would be contesting elections for the first time.

The SP is yet to name its candidate from Rampur Sadar.

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While the SP has been the main focus of the BJP’s attack in this election, Khan is among the SP leaders whom its star campaigners such as Union minister Amit Shah have repeatedly named and taunted. This is not surprising, given Khan’s clout in Rampur, a seat he has won nine times, as well as neighbouring areas.

The 66-year-old vacated the constituency in 2019 to contest parliamentary polls. He was replaced by wife Fatima, who resigned from her Rajya Sabha seat and fought from Rampur Sadar and won. In 2017, Abdullah entered the poll arena, and contested from Swar Assembly constituency in Rampur on an SP ticket and also won. However, in December 2019, the Allahabad High Court declared his election null on the grounds that he was below the minimum age of 25 when he filed his nomination papers.

Saxena also has a family association with the Rampur Sadar, where Muslims make up 60% of the population. His father Shiv Bahadur Saxena fought twice from the seat on a BJP ticket, losing to Khan once. He later fought from Swar Tanda in Rampur, and won four times between 1989 and 2012. He served as a minister twice.

Saxena claims the dispute between him and Khan is “not personal” but “ideological”. “Azam would make remarks on Bharat Mata, and I regularly raised objections to it,” he says. According to the BJP candidate, the differences ended up in court when Khan “harassed” local farmers and businessmen during his term as minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government. “He forced farmers to give up land for his Jauhar University. Businessmen were harassed to give money for construction of the university building,” Saxena says.

He adds that during the Akhilesh government too, he had complained against Khan to the Chief Minister and Governor. “No one was then ready to conduct an inquiry. I met Akhilesh personally. Under Yogi Adityanath I filed a complaint with senior officials. They conducted an inquiry and issued directions for the FIRs to be filed… Because of my efforts, several poor farmers got back their lands.”

The case filed by Saxena over which Khan, Fatima and Abdullah surrendered before a court in February 2020 and were sent to jail is related to an alleged forgery of Abdullah’s birth certificate. While one of the certificates showed Abdullah as born in Rampur, another had Lucknow as his place of birth.

Saxena claims he personally monitored all the cases against Khan in court. “I earlier visited the court three to four days a week to ensure that witnesses could record their statement without any pressure. It is because of my efforts that Khan is still in jail,” he says.

While Abdullah and Fatima have got bail in all the 43 and 32 criminal cases lodged against them respectively, Khan has got bail in all but two of them. His lawyer Vinod Sharma said the remaining two cases are pending in the High Court.

Saxena denies he got the ticket because of the cases he had filed against Khan. “I requested a ticket and the leadership found me suitable,” he says.

Incidentally, the Aam Aadmi Party candidate from Rampur Sadar seat, Faisal Khan Lala, has also been a frequent complainant against the Khan family. The first-time contestant claims to have filed four cases against them, and to be “pursuing around 29”.

He says he joined AAP from the Congress because it was an honest political party and its agenda and policies were good. “My ideology matches with AAP’s. While being in AAP I can do social service too. People of Rampur want change on Delhi lines.”

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