A MEETING is in progress at the home of retired IRS officer Zubair Masood Khan in Rampur. Under one roof are Samajwadi Party, BSP and BJP supporters, besides social activists and locals. They have put their heads together to assess various factors that can provide a pointer to who is best placed to win Rampur, stronghold of the SP’s Azam Khan Advocate Babu Khan, an SP supporter, is among the first to leave. He has apparently figured that most people at the gathering would have anyone winning, as long as it isn’t Azam. “No one can accept defeat before voting,” says Zubair, the host.
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BJP district general secretary Phool Khan says their candidate Shiv Bahadur Saxena is contesting against the BSP’s Dr Tanveer Ahmed. “No contest with Azam,” he claims. “If the Hindu vote goes to Azam, it’s destiny, but if it goes to Tanveer it will be a good change,” says Kamran Khan Yusufzai, an adventure traveller back from Delhi to support Tanveer. “Even if Hindus go with BJP, we will be happy. It will at least end the monopoly.”
Babloo Khan figures that the BJP and the BSP are working together along with the Peace Party and others. “Poora Rampur ek taraf hai Azam Sahab ko harane ke liye,” he says. “All of Rampur has come together to defeat Azam. But take it from me in writing, Azam is still going to win.” Some distance away, Waseem Ahmed and Mohd Shaqeel are buying a bottle of perfume from the 140-year-old Miyan Khubshoo Shop at Naseerullah Khan Market. Whom will you vote for, they ask the shop-owner, Sajid Miyan, who smiles. “Is baar Tanveer Sahab ko denge.”
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The two ask him to lower his voice: there are Azam supporters within earshot. Sajid is unfazed. “Even Azam knows he is losing. That’s the reason why he is crying at public meetings,” Sajid says. “Rampur needs change. I can smell that change.” At Suterkhana in old Rampur, a crowd roars as Azam ends his last speech for the day. “All this talk of my not winning is propaganda being spread by the criminal class and vested interests whose existence is in danger. I want you all not to go with any rumours…”
Rampur with five seats has the largest concentration of Muslims in a single district. Rampur seat itself that has 3.17 lakh voters, 58 per cent of them Muslim. Jatavs count for 17 per cent; the other 25 per cent includes Yadavs and Shakyas. Azam is confident that most of the Muslim vote will go to the SP in all five seats, although all parties barring the BJP have fielded Muslim candidates.
“No one can do what Azam has done for Rampur,” says a supporter, Mohd Suhail, who has attended all his rallies in Rampur every alternate night. Why then should Azam be shedding tears? “He is too soft to bear the pain of the poor. The poor are unhappy about rumours that Azam will lose.” Around 3 km away at Shahbaaz Gate, the BSP candidate is addressing his last gathering. Tanveer, a doctor, was a distant second to Azam in 2012, losing by some 50,000 votes. Every time he mentions Azam, the crowd applauds. He accuses Azam of various atrocities against Dalits and the poor.
Asked who his main opponent is, Tanveer tells The Indian Express, “I have the support of people. So has Azam. We cannot rule out the possibility of the BJP winning if the Muslim vote splits.” Across the bridge that demarcates Muslim localities, BJP candidate Saxena is talking to his team. He is upset that he has not been able to cover all localities, especially in the old city. “I think I am winning this time,” he says. “It’s all because of polarisation of Muslim votes and the Modi wave,” he says, confident that change will come this time.