Samajwadi Party’s Lok Sabha candidate from Sultanpur and alleged mafia-turned-politician Atiq Ahmed on Wednesday denied reports that his cavalcade to Sultanpur consisted of “hundreds of vehicles with armed men.”

Mr. Ahmed, who has several criminal cases against him, including murder, was expelled from the SP in 2008 and re-inducted recently.

Talking to The Hindu, Mr. Ahmed admitted that the cavalcade during his maiden visit to Sultanpur after being declared the candidate consisted of a large number of vehicles. But he denies that it consisted of “hundreds of armed men.”

“I was later told there were 1,100 vehicles. This is possible since the cavalcade included the supporters of many local MLAs and district heads. I also have a following in Pratapgarh and Phulpur, from where I have contested. But the question of armed men is utterly exaggerated by the media,” he said.

The former Phulpur MP added: “For the past 25 years I have had only four armed guards. The other armed men were the guards of other legislators. The television grabs have shown the same shots repeatedly. If someone like (Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra) Modi had drawn such large number of supporters the media would have shown it as a sign of his growing popularity. Why this double standard?”

The State has sought a report on the incident from the office of the DGP.

Mr. Ahmed’s ticket has been heavily criticized by the opposition who allege that the SP was returning to “criminal elements” to save its face in next year’s general elections.

On his candidature from Sultanpur, he said the decision was solely of the party, adding that the SP was eyeing the seat much more aggressively next year.

On reports that the Muslims in the constituency were unhappy with his candidature, Mr. Ahmed said that since the SP had earlier given the ticket to another Muslim Shakeel Ahmed some “related people” were bound to express their unhappiness.

When it was drawn to his attention that the SP had recently re-inducted tainted Kunda MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya as Cabinet Minister, Mr. Ahmed said,” Raja Bhaiya got a clean chit. So have I. The court has freed me. I have not been convicted."

Calling himself a victim of political vendetta, Mr. Ahmed said, "We must also see that the BJP-BSP government had lodged 123 FIRS against me in one day. They were quashed by the High Court.”

Asked why his candidature wouldn’t harm the party’s prospects in next year’s elections as they had given ticket to a tainted element, Mr. Ahmed said, "The constitution has allowed me to fight elections. I will stop when the Court will disallow me, when the Election Commission bars me. The media is not bigger than them.”