It’s Azam aide vs former loyalist in Rampur Lok Sabha bypoll

The Rampur Lok Sabha bypoll has become a prestige battle for senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, who is backing his trusted aide Asim Raza, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has fielded former Azam loyalist Ghanshyam Lodhi.

It will be interesting to see how Khan displays his political skills and whether he turns the June 23 Rampur bypoll into a quest for revenge against the BJP by ensuring the ruling party’s defeat by a larger margin than in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, local people say.

Azam Khan was released on bail on May 20 after 27 months in jail. The Congress has decided not to field its candidate reportedly to support Azam Khan. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), too, has chosen to stay away.

Azam Khan had vacated the Rampur Lok Sabha seat in March after he was elected MLA from the Rampur assembly constituency. He had contested the assembly election from jail and defeated his rival BJP’s Akash Saxena by a margin of over 55,000 votes. Akash Saxena is either a complainant or has pursued dozens of cases lodged against Khan.

Three years ago, Khan had defeated the BJP’s Jaya Prada by a margin of over one lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Rampur. Initially, there was speculation that Azam could opt for his wife Tazeen Fatima or any other family member for the bypoll but he decided to back Asim Raza. Describing Khan as a seasoned politician, Ajay Tiwari, a lawyer, observes that he supported Asim to silence his critics who accuse him of promoting only his family members.

“It’s a win-win situation for Azam who will benefit both from the victory and defeat of Asim,” Tiwari argues.

If Asim wins, it will be seen as Khan’s victory; in case of defeat, the blame will be on the candidate, he says.

As for Lodhi, he was in the BJP a long time ago but joined the BSP in 2009 and contested the Lok Sabha election but lost and later the joined SP. He was considered loyal to Azam Khan who also helped him get elected as MLC.

He joined the BJP just ahead of the assembly election.

The BJP fielded him against Khan, ignoring the claims of Akash Saxena, former MP Nepal Singh’s son Saurabh and many other party leaders.

For the BJP, a possible reason for banking on Ghanshyam Lodhi is the victory of Lodhi leader Nepal Singh in the 2014 general election.

Another local journalist explains that the BJP won this seat in 2014 when the Modi wave was at its peak, but situation is now different and it would be difficult for BJP to defeat Azam’s candidate in his bastion.

In the Rampur Lok Sabha constituency, Muslims constitute about 8.5 lakh voters, the largest among all communities there. There are around 8.30 lakh Hindu voters which includes 1.25 lakh Lodhis, 75,000 Kurmis and about 45,000 Yadavs (all OBCs) BJP leader Akash Saxena believes that in absence of BSP candidate its dalit voters could support the BJP along with other OBCs and Hindu voters.

On the contrary, the absence of a Congress candidate is expected to benefit Samajwadi Party. Rampur was a Congress a stronghold in the past and the party’s Muslim supporters could support the Samajwadi Party to ensure the BJP’s defeat.

Leaders of both parties are engaged in a war of words. The BJP’s strategy largely seems to project Azam Khan as an “oppressor of the poor” who did nothing for development of the district. BJP leader Akash Saxena blames Azam Khan for lack of industries in the area.

“Azam’s men only work was to commit atrocities on poor people,” says Saxena and claims that BJP always supported the underprivileged.

On the contrary, Azam and his son Abdullah Azam, the SP MLA from Swar, accuse the BJP of dividing people in the name of region, castes and community. “We will continue our fight against their divisive and revenge politics,” Azam says in a speech. Describing Azam Khan as “Vikas Purush”, his media incharge Shanu claims that he is the architect of New Rampur and always thinks about city’s development.

“He always helped the poor, therefore they extend their unstinted support to him,” he says. “The BJP has nothing to say against him. Therefore, they resort to propaganda against him. If he did nothing for the poor than why did they enthusiastically vote for him in the assembly election and Saxena lost by a margin of over 55,000 votes?” Shanu asks.

Unemployment, inflation, lack of development, improvement in health facilities, construction of Transport Nagar and a trauma centre are major issues in the district but they barely find mention in the speeches of their leaders.

A paan shop owner Shiraj alleges that no one is talking about inflation and problems of the poor. Prices of essential commodities have gone up manifold, sales have gone down but these issues are missing from the speeches of leaders, he says.

“They are engaged in accusing each other instead of talking about issues and problems of people,” he says.

While Azam Khan and his son Abdullah are spearheading election campaign for Asim Raza, the BJP has a list of 40 star campaigners. For the BJP, which retained power in Uttar Pradesh three months ago, it is an opportunity to prove its popularity.

But Azam Khan’s supporters are confident about Asim Raza’s chances to give a befitting reply to what they say is the BJP’s anti-Azam campaign.

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