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Modi wave catches up in Azamgarh, no cakewalk for Mulayam

When the Samajwadi Party announced Mulayam Singh Yadav’s candidature from Azamgarh, it was considered a masterstoke – that he would stem the rising Narendra Modi tide in Poorvanchal. And as this is considered the epitome of Muslim politics ever since the Batla House encounter, his candidature from here, it was expected, would give a thrust to secular politics in the whole of Uttar Pradesh.

 Modi wave catches up in Azamgarh, no cakewalk for Mulayam

Samajwadi Party Supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. AFP

Three weeks down the line, even his hardcore supporters recognise that it’s no cakewalk for him. It could come as a big surprise to those who pinned great hopes on the Samajwadi chief just on basis of simple arithmetic. The arithmetic is still loaded in Mulayam’s favour: Nine out of 10 assembly segments in this parliamentary constituency were won by the Samajwadi Party in the Assembly elections and one went to the Bahujan Samaj Party. Five of these MLAs are ministers in the current Akhilesh Yadav government. Out of the grants that the state government has given to various districts, Azamgarh stands second only to Mainpuri, the Samajwadi party chief’s native place.

But a developing chemistry could trouble him. Mulayam may perhaps now realise it the hard way that ignoring Modi, at least initially, as a crucial factor in these elections was a mistake. The SP will have to slog it out to cover lost ground. Though there is no confirmation, the word among Samjwadi workers in the constituency is that Netaji will be camp here for about a week, starting end of this month or from the first week of May. "Preparations are accordingly being made by the administration and by the party,” one worker said.

Like Varanasi and other areas of Poorvanchal, this constituency goes to polls in the last phase, on May 12. That gives Mulayam the luxury to stay here, if needed, to ensure that he does not become the biggest upset story of 2014.

He surely put up a grand show in Azamgarh when he came to file his nomination papers from the constituency on Tuesday. Enthused Samajwadi workers chanted slogans, danced on drumbeats, sang songs hailing him as the next prime minister. The assembled party workers and sympathisers had come from all parts of Eastern UP, districts within radius of 100-150 km of Azamgarh. In his public rally that he held at ITI college grounds, he ended his speech by making a very emotional appeal to the gathered audience: “Hume bhi toh Dilli me kuch bana do. Aap logon ne yuva ko bahut kuch diya use (son Akhilesh Yadav) chief minister bana diya. Are Hume bhi kuch Bana do. Hamari Samajwadi Party ke bina centre me sarkar na bane " (make me something significant in Delhi. You have given a lot to the youth, made one youth the chief minister of UP, now it is my turn. Make me something. You have to ensure that no government is formed in Delhi without the Samjawadi Party).

Interestingly, this emotional appeal came from Mulayam as a post script to his half hour speech. After he finished his speech, a vote of thanks was going on and the crowd had stared leaving the ground. Mulayam suddenly grabbed the microphone to make his last ditch appeal. It worked somewhat. Vimal Yadav who had come from Chandeshwar and his friend Sameshi Yadav said if such a big national leader was virtually begging for votes then it was incumbent on them to think from the heart rather than the head. Incidentally, the two had only minutes ago talked at length with this Firspost correspondent about how the Modi wave was impacting voters' mind in the entire region, upsetting traditional caste calculations. They themselves were so far not sure who should they vote for. Locally, the BJP candidate Ramakant Yadav meant too much for them but Mulayam was the community’s national pride.

The BJP candidate Ramakant Yadav who had been written off a few weeks back is now putting up a spirited fight. He was a one time protégé of Mulayam and had quit SP to join BJP before the last parliamentary elections and had won the election from Azamgarh. The BSP too is making its presence felt. It has given a ticket to a Muslim, Shah Alam alias Guddu Jamali. He is an MLA, the only non-Samajwadi MLA to have won from the Azamgarh parliamentary constituency in the February 2012 assembly elections. With 22 per cent Dalit voters and his own support base in Muslim community, Jamali is being taken as a strong candidate. Ulema Council candidate Maulana Rashidi's presence in the fray has made Muslim politics even more interesting here.

The way things unfolded on Tuesday speaks volumes of the confidence of the BJP candidate. So much so that it was a subject of discussion among those in the audience at Mulayam’s rally. A few day.s back Ramakant Yadav announced that he would file his nomination on the same day and same time as his one time mentor Mulayam. He kept his promise and had a show of strength that did not make the Samajwadi supporters happy. He may eventually lose but the Modi factor has charged BJP workers and made them believe, perhaps with too much optimism, that Mulayam could be defeated in a constituency where Yadavs and Muslims together account for around six lakh votes.

Broadly, Muslims are with Mulayam but it is a split in the Yadav vote that is causing anxiety to the Samajwadi strategists. This becomes clear when one talks to a number of people on the ground, especially in the hinterland. Subash Yadav near Muhammadpur says, “Mulayam Singh first has to convince us that he will not leave this constituency for Mainpuri. This is an election to make a Prime Minister. He has supported Congress all these years but they have not been giving money to SP’s UP government. Can he assure that he will yet again not end up supporting the Congress party? Though he is the tallest Yadav leader in the country, there is a difference between Yadavs of Western UP and eastern UP.” He then held forth on sub-caste politics and said, “I can then vote for him, he has been pride of the community. But there is talk going on among us about who we should vote for in constituencies where the SP has not fielded a Yadav. Here, BJP could win with our support.”

His contention was contested by Ramashray Yadav, claiming that all Yadavs were solidly with Samajwadi party and all such of BJP making a dent was figment of rumour mongering by the Sangh Parivar. As he finished and walked off, a young Rakesh Kumar Singh, a Rajput who had travelled long distance from Chandauli to attend the rally because of his personal allegiance to a certain SP leader, said some Yadavas may give a contrarian perspective but would ultimately go with SP.

Modi’s candidature from Varanasi has changed the electoral game in eastern UP and adjoining constituencies of Bihar. By moving to a constituency that is next door to Varanasi Mulayam Singh wants to send a message to his social constituency, particularly the Muslims, that he is the only one who can stand up and possibly repulse a perceived Modi’s tide.

Zahid Azmi, a professor at the Shibli National College, says that Mulayam was a sure winner and there could hardly be any doubts about that. The question was only of margin. He claimed that the Muslim community stood by him and only a small percentage of community members could vote for the BSP or Ulema Council.

A bunch of Muslim youths in the Mulayam road show were more forthcoming. “Take my word, 70 per cent Muslims are with Mulayam and no body knows where 30 percent would go.”

It is this 30 percent among Muslims and a section of Yadavas splitting from SP that could in fact make the contest in Azamgarh highly interesting.

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Updated Date: Apr 23, 2014 07:44:09 IST