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BJP looks to topple Azam Khan in his citadel but has its work cut out

Ruling party receives former Congress MLA's support in Rampur Lok Sabha bypoll. But it still has to contend with the Azam factor.

Written by Asad Rehman | Lucknow |
Updated: June 19, 2022 11:43:43 am
Rampur is considered the bastion of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan. (File Photo)

For the June 23 Rampur Lok Sabha bypoll, the BJP is banking on the Yogi Adityanath government’s policies and development work. But it faces an uphill battle in a constituency that is considered the bastion of Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Azam Khan. Though a former Congress MLA from Rampur is also backing the BJP candidate in the bypoll, which became necessary after Azam vacated the seat following his election to the UP Assembly in March, it may not be enough.

A senior SP leader said the party was sure that Azam would ensure a victory for 64-year-old Asim Raja who has been by his side through thick and thin for 45 years. In Rampur, Muslims play a vital role in deciding the winner and given past election results, Azam’s touch can prove to be the deciding factor.

“Rampur votes where Azam is. And after some speculation of a rift between him and Akhilesh ji (SP president Akhilesh Yadav) in the media, it has now become clear that Azam is still a staunch Samajwadi and that is enough for Asim Raja to win the seat. The Muslim population also has sympathy for Azam for being kept in jail for more than two years. People will vote for Azam, no matter who the candidate is,” said the leader.

Muslims constitute the largest group in Rampur at about 8.5 lakh. They are followed by Hindus at around 8.3 lakh, including around 1.5 lakh Dalits, Other Backward Class (OBC) groups such as Lodhis (1.25 lakh), Kurmis (75,000), Sainis (80,000), Pals (38,000), and Yadavs (45,000), and upper castes.

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In 2019, Azam won the seat by securing 52.71 per cent of the votes while the BJP’s Jaya Prada, a two-time MP from the constituency when she was in the Opposition party, got 42.34 per cent of the votes. In the state elections earlier this year, the SP won three Assembly segments in Rampur while the BJP bagged two.

For the past two months, there had been reports of a rift between Akhilesh Yadav and the veteran leader who spent two years in prison in connection with a number of cases and got out on bail on May 20. While in prison, he did not meet an SP delegation and an aide hit out at the SP chief for ignoring “Muslim issues”. 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 close to him to replace him, the SP chief apparently proposed that it should go to someone outside the Khan family.

But all that talk was laid to rest after Akhilesh met Azam in a Delhi hospital, where the senior leader had been admitted, two weeks ago and accommodated his demands regarding MLC polls nomination and Rajya Sabha elections, and also gave him the autonomy to decide the contestant from Rampur.

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Meanwhile, the BJP said its candidate Ghanshyam Lodhi, a former SP MLC, would provide a tough contest to Asim Raja. “The seat has a sizeable number of Lodhis who will get behind our candidate. We are also confident of winning over the other Hindu community votes and also votes from the Muslim community,” said a BJP leader.

Signalling its intent to wrest control of Azam Khan’s bastion, the ruling party has senior ministers such as Bhupendra Singh Chaudhary and Suresh Khanna to the constituency to campaign for Lodhi. BJP leader Akash Saxena who lost to the veteran SP leader in the recent state elections from the Rampur Assembly constituency said people were “fed up” with Azam choosing who contests from Rampur. “The SP only fields candidates from Azam’s family and it is clear that this time too, the same has happened. Raja is part of his core group and is like his family only. Why doesn’t SP field a worker who works for people?” he asked.

The BJP leader said, “The campaign is ongoing and we are telling the people about Yogi ji’s pro-people policies, and they will vote for us.”

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The ruling party has also received a boost from Congress leader and former Rampur MLA Kazim Ali Khan who last week announced he was backing Lodhi since his party decided against contesting both the Rampur and Azamgarh by-elections. With the BSP also not contesting from Rampur, the BJP is also hopeful of getting a sizable number of Dalit votes. Kazim’s son Haider Ali Khan lost to Azam Khan’s son Abdullah Azam Khan in the Assembly poll this year from the Suar constituency. Haider contested on a ticket of BJP ally Apna Dal (Sonelal).

Asked why he was supporting Lodhi, Kazim Ali Khan said, “My support is for the candidate who is standing against Azam Khan’s candidate in Rampur, and it happens to be the BJP candidate. I am still a Congress leader. But in Rampur, I am going to hold public meetings in support of the BJP candidate.”

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First published on: 18-06-2022 at 02:02:02 pm

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