The Congress, pushing for a change of guard in UP, has found a torchbearer in film-maker Muzaffar Ali.
The creator of the 1981 classic Umrao Jaan, having severed ties with the Samajwadi Party, is building the Congress connect in Lakhimpur Kheri district of central UP in his inimitable soft style.
“We are here to campaign for the Congress, as its young leader Rahul Gandhi deserves to be given a chance. Don’t you agree?” Ali says at Muslim dominated Tehulia village in Gola constituency.
The poser from Raja saheb — as Ali, 66, whose family ruled the erstwhile Kotwara estate nearby, is referred to in these parts — evokes an instant “haan” (yes). Ali has pulled off a coup of sorts in Gola after joining the Congress two months back. The candidate for Gola, Arvind Giri, is a three-time MLA from the seat, but on the SP ticket.
Giri, who had retained Gola in 2007 amid a Bahujan Samaj Party wave, admits he switched loyalties for Ali, his “political mentor”.
Gola, along with seven other constituencies in Lakhimpur district (including the new Palia seat), goes to polls on March 3.
The Congress had failed to open its account in this sugarcane belt in 2007. The party had last tasted success in this region in 1991, winning two seats.
Ali tells the electorate, “We had established Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP chief) in the region. But, Mulayam Singh ji didn’t understand our dreams. So we parted ways.” Ali’s presence in the Congress camp is being seen as an effort to woo Muslims, who constitute about 18% of the state’s population, but he has a different take. “India’s basic ethos is secular. We can’t live without that.”
Ali, however, adds that Muslims are coming back to the Congress in a big way “as they don’t want to be used and exploited anymore”.