The possible shift of a good section of traditional Congress voters after party nominee Imran Masood’s hate speech video against BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi may well turn the fortune towards an unexpected aspirant.
The sort of damage control done by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday — the day Mr. Masood was arrested — seems to have not had much impact as the local Congress leadership is still red-faced, and party workers fanning out to seek a vote are being confronted with uneasy questions.
The hate speech by Mr. Masood and his 14-day judicial remand are the main topic of conversation among urbanites as well as in hukkah panchayats in rural areas.
Mr. Masood delivered the speech at a meeting at Talehi Bujurg, near Deoband, in September 2013 when he was in the Samajwadi Party.
Although he apologised on Friday, when the hate speech went viral on private television channels, he turned defiant after he was arrested on Saturday. He told journalists that he would go to jail a hundred times as he had committed no wrong by threatening to chop Mr. Modi into small pieces if he came to Uttar Pradesh.
Saharanpur District Congress Committee president Meharban Alam, when contacted on Monday, said it was a well-planned conspiracy to make the hate CD public on election eve as it was made six months ago and not after the election code of conduct came into force.
“The CD contains Mr. Imran Masood’s personal views, which are contrary to the Congress philosophy that stood for communal harmony and peace,” Mr. Alam said adding that the party was canvassing for Mr. Masood as he never used such language after joining the Congress.
Mr. Masood’s outburst has, however, shocked many, especially traditional Congress voters, who seem to be considering voting for the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Samajwadi Party. A good section of Congress voters is considering voting for the BJP … a shift not thought of till a week ago. This, observers feel, might tilt the balance in favour of Raghav Lakhanpal, MLA, fielded by the BJP.
Mr. Masood is the nephew of the former Union Minister, Rashid Masood, who is in jail on being convicted in the medical admissions scam. The Samajwadi Party has fielded Mr. Rashid Masood’s son, Shahjan Masood, who was given the ticket after withdrawing the same from Mr. Imran Masood.
Mr. Lakhanpal enjoys considerable clout because of the work done by his late father Nirbhaypal Sharma, who was a popular Congress MLA. Besides this, the entire saffron brigade has fanned out to villages trying to prove that the Congress was a communal force by citing the hate speech video.
Hafiz Abdul Aziz Khan, a prominent social worker in Deoband, while deploring Mr. Imran Masood’s hate speech, says he might get the votes of illiterate Muslims, while secular Muslims would now vote for the sitting Bahujan Samaj Party MP Jagdish Rana fielded again by the party.
Ashraf Siddiqui in Khata Khedi in the city feels that people would vote for the party that promised safety, food and health security and could defeat the BJP.
Chet Ram in Haroda expressed shock that the Congress candidate had uttered such objectionable words against Mr. Modi. Most of the traditional Congress voters here are at a loss to decide as to who should be given the mandate. “We will soon be holding a panchayat to decide whom to vote — the BSP, SP or BJP,” he said.
These are challenging times for the Masood family, which has reigned supreme in the region for decades … the older Masood is tainted for the medical admissions scam and his nephew Imran for the hate speech. It would be better to elect someone from outside this family, says Harish Talwar and Seema Bhandari in Hakikat Nagar.