Lok Sabha Polls 2019: Rampur Shrill in Support for Gagged Azam Khan

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Senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan during an election rally in Rampur from where he is contesting for Lok Sabha seat.

GROUND REPORT

M. Anas | Caravan Daily

RAMPUR, UP —  Azam Khan, the 9-time MLA of Rampur and first-time contender for the parliamentary seat, is known for raking up controversies. In 2014, he made an unsavoury remark against then BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and was banned from campaigning for the entire poll season. This week, he made a sexist remark against her protégée-turned-rival Jaya Prada and has been gagged for 72 hours. However, Rampur is shrill in its support for Khan, who is said to have given a modern facelift to the city of Nawabs.

Jaya Prada, the BJP candidate, has been two-time MP from Rampur. Azam Khan ushered her into UP politics and he even helped her win her maiden 2004 election. Things however changed when ego clash between then SP leader Amar Singh and Khan led Khan to turn against Prada. Since then, Khan has been making distasteful remarks against the yesteryear actress. Riding on her victimhood, she even managed to sail through in 2009 election despite all-out opposition by Khan. This time, however, the equation is different. She is directly pitted against Khan, who is hugely popular in the district. Plus, political pundits say, she is contesting the election on BJP ticket unlike on earlier occasions when she was SP candidate.

“Jaya Prada is no challenger to Khan. The media attention accorded to her after Khan’s ‘underwear’ jibe is unlikely to benefit her electorally. She is not in a contest. Actually, Congress’s Sanjay Kapoor, a former MLA, will provide fight to Khan,” said Khurshid Alam Khan, a local journalist.

Jaya Prada, BJP candidate from Rampur Lok Sabha constituency.

Selection of Kapoor too is quite eventful in Rampur. It is for the first time since 1967 that Congress has fielded someone from outside the Nawab family.

“This is because in 2017 assembly election, Nawab Kazim Ali Khan lost by a record margin to Khan’s son Azzam. Besides, the influence of Nawab family now don’t run beyond the Noor Mahal, the abode of Nawabs,” said Inder Dev Sharma, another local journalist.

Sharma added that actually candidature of Kapoor will smoothen the road for Khan. “Kapoor will only eat into upper caste and Punjabi votes which otherwise would have gone to BJP. In addition, all the Muslim votes will be united in favour of Khan. Rampur is a Muslim majority seat and it matters a lot here,” said Sharma.

According to 2011 census, there are 51% Muslims in Rampur. And around 17 lakh votes in the constituency, around 55% are said to be Muslims.

As this correspondent toured Rampur, there was a mix of opinion about Khan. While some were seeking revenge against him for his zulm (oppression). A majority was lauding his guts he shows as a national leader and the development he brought to the district as a local leader.

During a poll campaign in Milak tehsil of the district, BJP candidate Jaya Prada said that making statements against women is a habit of Khan and that it was the responsibility of people of Rampur to teach him a lesson.

“He can say anything. He did not have any respect for women. It’s his habit to make such statements but the people of Rampur know him very well. They dislike what he says and will reply to him with their votes,” she said.

Locals agreed and disagreed with what Prada said.

“Tales of revenge and vendetta are part of Rampur folklore. Boasting is a way of conversation here. All elections are fought on such slogans. For the last three decades, Azam Khan wooed people with the line, ‘Nawabon aur Congress ka zulm khatm karo (End the atrocities by Congress and Nawabs)’. Now, there is a similar slogan against him: ‘Rampur ko Azam ke zulm se bachao (Save Rampur from Azam’s atrocities)’. Like the Nawabs, he too has served his own interests and the city runs on the sole virtue of being Rampur. In the last 30 years, local industries like knife and bidi have suffered. Sugar and textile factories have closed down and not a single new industry has flourished except rickshaw-pulling,” said Nannu Mian, a city elder whose blessings are reportedly sought by every politician. He added that in every election, Khan invites trouble for him because of his foul and sharp tongue. “But, in the end he emerges winner as people appreciate his gumption and his ability to refuse to say sorry,” he said.

Congress’s Sanjay Kapoor is said to give fight to Azam Khan at the Rampur Lok Sabha constituency.

This correspondent toured many Muslim localities like Jauhar Colony, Qila, Gher Mardan, lal Qabr and Nalapar and found that 90% people were supporting Khan.

Fatima, a student of Mahila Degree College, said that she would vote for the development in the city. “Rampur today is one of the most beautiful cities in West UP. It is entirely due to Azam Khan Sb. He has taken keen interest in development of the district. We get 24-hour electricity and our roads are clean and well maintained,” she said.

In Noor Mahal colony, people were unwavering in their loyalty to Nawab family and thus were supporting the Congress party. But in nearby Mom Ka Tazia locality, people were clamouring for Khan. “Azam bhai is people and development-friendly. The election commission has gagged him but we are his voice. He will win by record margin,” said Syed Saim, a first time voter.

In villages like Paighambarpur and Baboola, there was equal enthusiastic passion for Khan and people were unfazed by the fact that their leader has made any misogynistic comment. “What he said was about Amar Singh, who is clearly a closet asset of RSS. He backs Jaya Prada and thus she too is working for RSS. What’s wrong if Azam targeted these people?” asked a villager.

In Hindu concentrated areas like Nader Bagh Madayya, Gangapur, Rajdwara and Jwala Nagar, maximum people were supporting BJP’s Jaya Prada.

Kapil Kumar, a first time voter and a student of Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar University, whose lifetime chancellor is Azam Khan, said that from fruit seller to sweet vendor, all sections of Hindus have made up their mind to support Jaya Prada.

But Avinash, a local journalist covering poll campaigns of all political parties in the city, said that voter’s first choice is Azam, then comes the distant second. “And it could be anyone — BJP’s Jaya Prada or Congress’s Sanjay Kapoor,” he said.

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