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Rihai Manch founder takes fight against Azamgarh terror tag to poll field

Apart from around 60,000 Muslim voters, the Nizamabad seat has a sizeable number of Yadav (75,000) and Dalit (68,000) voters, besides around 35,000 upper castes (Brahmins and Thakurs).

Written by Asad Rehman | Lucknow |
Updated: February 8, 2022 9:12:18 am
Rajeev Yadav, 35, General Secretary of Rihai Manch, poses at a makeshift office he has set up for his election campaign in Azamgarh. Reuters

A long-time bastion of the Samajwadi Party, Azamgarh has been a particular focus of attacks by the BJP in the run-up to the polls. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said it had become a “fortress of terror” under the SP government; Union Home Minister in a speech here accused the SP of standing for “Jinnah, Azam Khan and Mukhtar Ansari”.

Amidst this grandstanding between the two parties that are the main contenders this election, it’s easy to not notice Rajeev Yadav. However, it’s his presence that is the message.

Yadav, contesting as an Independent from Nizamabad constituency in Azamgarh district, which votes in the last phase on March 7, is the founder member of the Rihai Manch. The legal and political advocacy group, formed in 2008 by Yadav and lawyer Mohammad Shoaib, has been fighting for those accused under terror and other stringent charges in UP, and Yadav says his contest is a continuation of that battle.

The 35-year-old Azamgarh native, who studied journalism at Delhi’s IIMC, says Rihai Manch was formed to counter the image created by the State and media of the district being the hub of terror. It came into shape after the Batla House encounter, some of whose accused were traced to Azamgarh, Yadav told The Indian Express. “The objective was to give legal representation to poor men accused of being terrorists on flimsy charges.”

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Yadav says the outfit has helped 17 men accused in terror cases get absolved of the charges. He plans to bring these men, belonging to different parts of India, to campaign for him.

Apart from around 60,000 Muslim voters, the Nizamabad seat has a sizeable number of Yadav (75,000) and Dalit (68,000) voters, besides around 35,000 upper castes (Brahmins and Thakurs).

The SP candidate is four-time MLA Alambadi, while the BJP has fielded Manoj Yadav. While he is fighting his first election, Manoj is the nephew of three-time BSP Nizamabad MLA Angad Yadav.

Given the high concentration of the SP’s core base of Yadavs and Muslims in the seat, Alambadi, 85, remains a favourite to win. The fear in the SP camp is that Yadav, due to his campaign revolving around issues faced by Muslims and marginalised communities, might eat into its votes.

Some in the SP’s Azamgarh unit also talk about potential fallout of factionalism within the party, after former Rani ki Sarai block pramukh Israr Ahmed was denied a ticket. “He is considering his options and may jump to another party… Ahmed is angry because he has been denied a ticket by the SP the second time after 2017,” an SP leader said.

Yadav says he is not bothered by accusations that he might hurt the SP vote. “Why should I bear the burden of this allegation? I have fought for the weakest in society, and that is what I will do after the election too. If I win, I will take the movement for the weaker sections in society to the Vidhan Sabha. These so-called secular parties never talk about the real issues of people from the weakest sections. I am talking about black laws like the NSA (National Security Act), repeated encounters against people from Muslim, Dalit and backward communities… What started out as anti-Muslim rhetoric has reached the houses of Dalits, Muslims, backwards, even farmers, who were called terrorists during the movement against the farm laws. These communities have been villainized by the Adityanath government, and that is what the focus of my poll campaign will be,” he says.

Yadav claims he has been assured of support by the Rashtriya Ullema Council and some other Muslim outfits with influence in eastern UP. Ulema Council spokesperson Talha Rashadi however said they were discussing this still. Formed in 2008 as a protest group, the Council has been contesting elections in UP since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Past results

As of now, the Ulema Council is planning to contest around 20 seats in UP, and is in alliance with the Peace Party, headed by Dr Mohamed Ayub, which also has influence in eastern UP.

The Rihai Manch founder is not the only one who might hurt the SP. The BSP, which is yet to field a candidate for the seat, may go with another Yadav face: former MLC Kailash Yadav.

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