Azamgarh: In Azamgarh, it should have been a hands-down win for Mulayam Singh Yadav. He is not only a big name but also considered by many to be the tallest Yadav leader in the state. Besides, he is known to be a benefactor of Muslims who constitute a huge chunk of voters. Moreover, he is also the mentor of his immediate rival Ramakant Yadav of the Bharatiya Janata Party. But the fact that he has to sweat hard, putting in extra time and effort in what should be his comfort zone, indicates he finds the fight tough.
The Yadav equation here is not as simple as it looks to the sundry outsider. "In eastern districts, many sections of the Yadavs frown at being ignored by Samajwadi Party leadership because most of the benefits of government schemes remain confined to western districts," says Jagdeep Yadav, an entrepreneur based in Nizamabad near Azamgarh. "In addition, the overwhelming importance being given to Muslims in all government schemes is also a sore point among not only Yadavs, but all other communities," he adds.
There are some traditional and cultural differences between Yadavs of UP as well. According to history professor Rahul Shukla, the Gwalvanshi Ahirs had settled in Azamgarh, Varanasi, Gorkakhpur, Mirzapur etc., besides in Bihar. "They were cultivators or tenants in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. At the turn of the century, they evolved into business and other vocations in a big way. In western UP, the early Yadavs were Yaduvanshi Yadavs who traced their lineage to Lord Krishna. They dominated the plains from Punjab, present-day Haryana to western UP, up to the Yamuna," he adds.
The Yadavs of the western districts, especially Etawah, Mainpuri, Firozabad, Kannauj etc. are socially more influential traders, business-owners, and later went into government and private service in a big way. "Since eastern UP has remained backward in terms of industrialization and government investment, there is a feeling of being ignored among the people," says Jagdeep Yadav. By contesting from Azamgarh, Mulayam attempts to bridge that gap, he feels.
The choice of Azamgarh as the second constituency by Mulayam in addition to Mainpuri is driven by two factors - one, to have a presence in eastern UP, and second, to curb the influence of BJP’s Narendra Modi contesting from Varanasi, from spreading to adjoining districts. It is the sense of loyalty among the Yadavs he is banking on heavily. With the presence of Ramakant Yadav as rival, his confidence has become a bit shaky. The latter might exploit the divide among the Yadavs to the disadvantage of Mulayam, feel political observers.
But why has Ramakant Yadav emerged as a tough rival, especially in view of reports that he was said to be willing to support SP initially? He owes his emergence on the eastern UP political scene to Mulayam. He won the 1996 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections on SP ticket and was considered the party’s eastern UP Yadav face. However, when in 2004 the SP did not nominate him, he joined the BSP in 2004 and won again. He then moved closer to the BJP and joined it in 2008. He lost the by-election to Akbar Ahmed Dumpy in 2008 but won it again in the 2009 election.
Ramakant Yadav has a chequered past and has several criminal cases pending against him. But he has support among the Yadavs and also among Brahmins, having earlier been with the BSP. He hopes to take advantage of the Modi effect as well. "The BSP obviously has taken the polarization angle into mind in having its sitting MLA from Mubarakpur Shah Alam alias Guddu Jamali as its candidate. But then the Muslims would rather support SP if it has as strong a candidate as Mulayam to defeat the BJP," says a political observer.
That brings us to the Muslim factor. In the high-profile fight between two Yadav leaders, Muslims could turn out to be the deciding factor. In case of sharp division of Yadav votes, their votes could tilt the result. Although the Muslim support to Mulayam has waned a bit in view of the general resentment against the SP government especially in the aftermath of Muzaffarnagar riots, but there appears to be little choice before the community. That gives the SP chief an advantage.