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Monday, January 17, 2022

Big blow for Congress in west UP, Gandhi camp leader quits, to back SP

Addressing his supporters in Saharanpur Monday, Masood said he was going to the SP for the sake of jamhooriyat (democracy).

Written by Maulshree Seth | Lucknow |
Updated: January 11, 2022 11:02:55 am
Imran Masood. (Photo: Facebook @Imranmasoodinc)

In a major setback to the Congress before the Assembly polls, its prominent minority face from Western Uttar Pradesh, Imran Masood, announced on Monday that he was parting ways to support the Samajwadi Party.

Other leaders close to Masood are expected to leave the Congress in his wake.

Masood had a fast rise within the Congress from being an outsider to being part of ‘Team Rahul’, to a national secretary of the AICC. In 2014, a speech by the firebrand leader attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi had run into controversy. However, Masood’s popularity in the area, that has a large Muslim population, has failed to translate into electoral success. This is also believed to have prompted the 50-year-old to switch sides at a time when the 2022 polls are heading for a BJP vs SP contest, with the Congress a sideshow.

Addressing his supporters in Saharanpur Monday, Masood said he was going to the SP for the sake of jamhooriyat (democracy). “I have taken this decision… is sarkar ko harane ke liye (to defeat this government). We will win all the seven seats here.” Saharanpur and neighbouring areas are considered Masood’s base.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Masood said his “birth as a politician” was in the SP, and that he was “pained” to have left it in 2011. “Similar is the case now. I am pained to leave the Congress. But the political situation is such that the Congress is nowhere in the fight in UP, and to defeat the BJP, the SP has become the only option.”

In an interaction with the media before his announcement, Masood said: “I am obliged to Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi for giving me all the respect. Priyanka Gandhi is also working hard, but the situation demands that if we want to establish the rule of law, we should support the SP.”

While in the Congress, Masood had more than once expressed his frustration with the party, and was a vocal advocate of an alliance with the SP. His supporters say it has been frustrating for him to lose despite getting over 80,000 votes in the 2012 Assembly polls and over 4 lakh votes in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014.

The nephew of Rasheed Masood, who won several Assembly elections as well as was an MP from the region, Imran Masood contested and won his first election in 2007 as an Independent from Muzaffarnagar Assembly constituency (known as Behat since delimitation in 2008). It was the sign of his popularity among the youth of the region, especially belonging to the minority community.

Over the years, he grew out of the shadow of his uncle, and in 2012, was picked by the Congress as one of the youth faces for Rahul’s team. The same year, he contested polls from the Nakur Assembly seat in Saharanpur. He lost closely, to the BSP’s Dharam Singh Saini.

Just before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, a video clip surfaced, in which Masood was seen threatening Modi, then the PM candidate of BJP, as he blamed the BJP and RSS for the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. A case was registered against him over hate speech.

In the Lok Sabha polls that followed his speech, Masood had lost to BJP candidate Raghav Lakhan Pal. His supporters admit Masood’s speech might have ended up polarising the voters, and contributed to his deafeat.

Masood told the Express that what he said was “unfortunate”. “I have apologised for that speech again and again… Main woh nahin hoon, na tha, aur na hoonga (I am not the person in that video, I was never that person and I will never be)… I have as many non-Muslim supporters as Muslim.”

Masood’s ill-luck had continued in the 2017 Assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when he had lost to the BJP and BSP respectively.

The importance the Gandhi family still placed on him was clear from the organisational roles that continued to come his away. He was made vice-president of the UPCC, national secretary, AICC, in June last year, and also included in the advisory council formed by Priyanka for the Assembly polls.

Among the Congress leaders considered close to Masood is MLA Naresh Saini, who was one of the only seven party candidates who won in the 2017 polls. Saini attributed his win to Masood, among other factors.

Says a supporter: “Masood believes that minority votes are going to go with the SP and he would again lose if the SP fields a strong candidate. He is bargaining for at least three seats, including one for himself.”

The supporter adds that there might be some complications as the SP’s partner RLD is also strong in west UP and would want seats for itself. However, Masood taking the plunge means he expects the problems to be sorted out.

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