Atiq Khan

LUCKNOW: The Muslim-Yadav factor is likely to decide the outcome of the Lok Sabha by-election from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. Filing of nomination papers for the April 12 by-election closed on Wednesday.

At the outset, the battle of the ballot in this constituency in eastern UP will revolve round Akbar Ahmed “Dumpy” of the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party and former Minister Balram Yadav who has been fielded by the former UP Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party is determined to throw a spanner in the works of Chief Minister Mayawati as well as her predecessor. The saffron party has given the ticket to the former MP from Azamgarh, alleged mafia don Rama Kant Yadav, who enjoyed considerable clout among the dominant Yadav voters in the constituency.

He had won the seat in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections on BSP ticket but was later thrown out of the party by Ms. Mayawati. He had to resign from the Lok Sabha. The by-election in Azamgarh has been caused by his resignation.

Handpicked by party president Rajnath Singh, Mr. Yadav’s candidature has caused considerable resentment in the BJP, which has been claiming to maintain a distance from candidates with alleged criminal antecedents.

According to local estimates, there are around two lakh Yadav voters in Azamgarh, followed by the Muslims whose head count is estimated at 1.25 lakh. The Bhumihars number around a lakh, the Kshatriyas (Thakurs) around 70,000 and the Brahmins about 40,000.

By fielding a Muslim and a Yadav candidate, respectively, the BSP and the Samajwadi Party vied for the support of the two major components of the Azamgarh electorate. The forthcoming electoral battle is likely to assume the form of a prestige contest between Ms. Mayawati and Mr. Mulayam Singh, notwithstanding the fact that the next MP will represent the constituency for only about a year considering the next Lok Sabha elections are due in 2009.

While the BJP had targeted the Yadavs to wrest the initiative from the SP, the Congress and the National Loktantrik Party (NLP) have fielded two Muslims in the form of Ehsan Khan and Tariq Hashmi, respectively. Hashmi was arrested by the Special Task Force of the UP Police for his alleged involvement in the terrorist attack in the Varanasi Civil Court premises on November 23, 2007. The STF claimed that he was a Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami (HUJI) member. Later it was revealed that Hashmi was the wrong person picked up by the STF.

Ehsan Khan’s candidature as the Congress nominee followed the refusal of former UP Chief Minister Ram Naresh Yadav and former MP Santosh Singh to contest the poll. His nomination has sparked off infighting in the Azamgarh unit of the party with the local Congressmen reportedly angered at the preference given to an “outsider”..

Two by-elections will be held in Uttar Pradesh on April 12 for two Lok Sabha seats—Azamgarh and Khalilabad—apart from three UP Assembly by-elections from Bilgram, Muradnagar and Karnailganj.