Azamgarh looks set to get off the SP’s cycle

Poornima Joshi Azamgarh (Uttar Pradesh) | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on March 03, 2017

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Muslims in the party bastion are angry at its handling of the community’s issues

Azamgarh is dominated by Muslims and Yadavs, the two pillars of the Samajwadi Party’s social support base. The district stood by the Yadav clan to help elect Akhilesh Yadav as Chief Minister in 2012 Assembly elections. It saved the face for Mulayam Singh Yadav in the Lok Sabha polls of 2014, when Uttar Pradesh was hit by a massive Narendra Modi tsunami. But when this district polls on Saturday, along with other seats in Poorvanchal, Akhilesh will be mistaken if he believes it will deliver nine out of ten Assembly segments to the SP as it did in 2012.

The reason: the palpable anger among Azamgarh’s Muslims, who have long been the target of suspicion, constant surveillance and police raids on terrorism charges. The boys in the alleged fake encounter in Batla House, Delhi, belonged to Sanjarpur village, which still faces the ignominy of being a “terror factory”. The fact that gangster Abu Salem hails from these parts does not help when common people are trying to cast aside the stereotypes of “terror hub” and other like epithets. Their faith in the SP has been thoroughly shaken in the last five years.

“The SP has not fulfilled a single promise to the Muslims in its manifesto. We were promised 18 per cent reservation. We were told the boys booked under fake charges of terrorism will be released. Not only have they not done any of that, we are facing further prosecution. Even those boys who have been acquitted by the sessions courts are being persecuted by the State government. which has gone in appeal against all these acquittals,” said Masihuddin Sanjari, who is part of the Rihai Manch, an organisation engaged in political mobilisation against wrongful persecution of Muslim youth.

Advantage BSP

Local Muslims, therefore, are shifting allegiance to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has secured support from the Ulema Council, a political outfit which has been putting up candidates in Muslim-dominant seats for some time, and is appealing to the sense of betrayal and persecution among the Muslims. The shift of the Ansari brothers, the local strongmen led by Mukhtar Ansari whose Quami Ekta Dal has merged with the BSP, has also consolidated the support of the Muslims towards the BSP.

A tough fight in six seats

Of the nine seats the SP won last time, it faces a tough fight in at least six. In Gopalpur, for instance, the party has dropped sitting MLA Wasim Ahmad to field local worker Nazir Ahmad. He is facing a stiff challenge from Kamla Yadav of the BSP who is weaning away Yadav votes and also getting Dalit and the Muslim support. In Azamgarh City, seven-term MLA Durga Prasad Yadav is pitted against a local Thakur, the BSP’s Bhupinder Singh alias Munna Singh.

Upper caste support

Local journalist Tarique Shafique says Durga Yadav faces an uphill task given that the local upper caste voter is bristling with anger. Yadav is widely believed to be the mastermind of several criminal activities, including the murder of his erstwhile political rival Sarvesh Singh alias Shifu Singh. The Thakurs in this seat are united against Yadav and the BSP candidate is being backed by the Dalits and Muslims as well. Siphu Singh’s wife Vandana Singh is the BSP candidate from nearby Sigdi, where she is up against the SP’s Abhay Narai Patel. Here too, the BSP candidate is attracting a consolidated Thakur vote, as also the BSP’s traditional Dalit voter and the Muslims upset at the SP.

SP’s soft Hindutva

Shafique said the SP has also begun indulging in soft Hindutva. “Akhilesh Yadav is rebranding himself. He is now a development man. His manifesto does not mention the word Muslim. Why should we bother with someone like him?” he asks.

SP district chief Hawaldar Yadav, however, said the toning down of the pro-Muslim rhetoric is only to counter communal polarisation by the BJP. “We are and will remain a social justice party. But we are facing a Hindutva onslaught. We have to counter it intelligently. Our voters understand and act accordingly,” Yadav told BusinessLine.

While the Muslims are not so convinced, they are distrustful of Mayawati too. “If we vote for the BSP, it will be because we are angry with the SP. Not because behenji is going to do anything spectacular,” said a local resident.

Published on March 03, 2017
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