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In UP, two prestige battles and an irate Azam Khan await SP

Azamgarh and Rampur LS by-polls on June 23, BJP looks for a way into SP bastions.

Written by Asad Rehman | Lucknow |
Updated: June 2, 2022 8:36:19 am
Azam Khan, Samajwadi Party, UP politics, UP SP, UP bypolls, UP news, Political Pulse, Indian expressSamajwadi Party leader Azam Khan. (File)

In Uttar Pradesh, the political temperature always soars. Months after the Assembly elections, the focus has shifted to the crucial Lok Sabha by-polls that will be held in Azamgarh and Rampur on June 23. Both the seats are considered the bastions of the Samajwadi Party (SP), one was held by party president Akhilesh Yadav and the other by the party’s veteran leader Azam Khan. But, reported differences between the two leaders, whose election to the state Assembly necessitated the by-elections, may have implications for the outcome of the battle in Rampur.

A senior SP leader said both the seats were equally crucial to the party and that candidates would be chosen after elaborate discussions. “The party knows the importance of the seats and hence we are working on the strategy to win them both,” he said.

For the BJP, the by-polls provide an opportunity to further cement its dominance in the state and will look to its 2014 performances in the two seats — it put in a strong fight in Azamgarh and won Rampur — for encouragement. A BJP leader said the ruling party would not let the by-elections be an “easy fight” and would “fight for every vote”.

The SP’s dominance in Azamgarh is illustrated by Akhilesh’s 60 per cent vote share when he won the constituency in 2019 by defeating his nearest rival Dinesh Lal Yadav “Nirahua” of the BJP. The Bhojpuri singer could manage to poll 35.1 per cent of the votes.

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Akhilesh improved upon the performance of his father and SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav five years earlier when he managed to hold on to the seat amid a nationwide pro-Narendra Modi wave by polling 35.43 per cent of the votes, while the BJP’s Ramakant Yadav got a 28.85 per cent vote share. Ahead of this year’s state elections, the 64-year-old Ramakant switched to the SP and contested from the Phoolpur-Pawai seat in Azamgarh district. Ramakant’s son Arun Kumar Yadav had won the constituency on a BJP ticket in 2017 but was not fielded by the ruling party.

While the two main parties have not yet announced their candidates, two-time Mubarakpur MLA Shah Alam “Guddu Jamali” may become a factor by eroding away the SP’s Muslim vote base. Alam unsuccessfully contested the recent election from the seat in Azamgarh district for the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) but returned to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), his former outfit, soon after. An affluent and popular businessman, Alam is likely to be the BSP candidate in Azamgarh.

Azam vs Akhilesh

Rampur is crucial to the political future of Azam Khan, who was released from Sitapur jail last month after more than two years. Since his release, the veteran SP leader has indicated that he is not happy with Akhilesh. Even while in prison, he did not meet with an SP delegation and an aide hit out at the SP chief for ignoring “Muslim issues”.

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The conjecture in political circles before Azam’s release was that the differences between him and Akhilesh emerged over the seat. While Azam reportedly wanted someone from the family to replace him, the SP chief had apparently proposed that it should go to someone outside the Khan family.

Like Azamgarh, Rampur has a sizeable Muslim population, a factor crucial to Azam’s dominance in the district. In the state elections, the veteran leader contested the Rampur Assembly seat from prison and won it for the 11th time with a vote share of 59.71 per cent. He had

won the 2019 Lok Sabha polls with 52.71 per cent of the votes. In 2014, the BJP’s Naipal Singh sprang a surprise by defeating the SP’s Naseer Ahmad Khan from the seat.

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The notification for the by-elections was issued on May 30 and the results will be declared on June 26, three days after polling.

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First published on: 01-06-2022 at 12:05:55 pm

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