When a Muslim royal fights an election on the ticket of a Dalit-led party and woos Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of the area against a new Muslim political dynasty, Indian democracy’s contradictions and possibilities come alive.
It may not be legal nomenclature anymore but Kazim Ali Khan, or Navaid Miyan, is still popularly referred to as the Nawab, the ruler, of Rampur. After shuffling through various parties — he was last elected as the Congress MLA in 2012 — Khan is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate from the Swar constituency of Rampur. He is one of the 97 Muslim candidates Mayawati has given tickets to in the hope of winning over the votes of minorities in this election.
Khan’s candidature and campaign shows the BSP strategy of getting the local arithmetic right at work on the ground. It is contingent on a powerful Muslim candidate bringing in his own community vote, to be buttressed by the ‘plus vote’ of BSP’s core constituency, Dalits.
The political contest here can also make or break the emergence of a new Muslim political dynasty in UP, for the former royal’s challenger is Samajwadi Party (SP) strongman Azam Khan’s son, Abdullah Azam Khan.
Building a local coalition
As we drive out in his car from the city’s Noor Mahal to the constituency, Kazim Ali Khan points out the constituency demographics — 52% Muslims, 48% Hindus. The overall electorate strength is about 300,000. “I won 44,000 votes from the assembly segment as a Congress candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections - this is my ‘core vote.’”
Besides this, he hopes to tap into close to 40,000 Dalits, the majority of which would be loyal to BSP.
He stops in the Surajpur village to pay his condolences at the home of a supporter, who has just lost his wife. Prem Das, the BSP district secretary, joins in at the village square as a crowd of Muslims gather.
Will the Muslim-Dalit coalition work given the contradictions between the two communities? Das replies, “This is not new. Kanshi Ram ji (BSP founder) had always spoken of Muslims as a part of Bahujan samaj. BSP in past elections too has given 85 tickets to Muslims. It will work.” And are the Dalits now with the party, given their shift to (Narendra) Modi in 2014? “Modiji made false promises, people got carried away, but those illusions are all shattered. Look at how notebandi (demonetisation) has affected the poor.”
Kazim Ali Khan is hoping his moderate image will appeal to even the Hindu voters of the area. “The BJP candidate will win votes only from Hindus; the SP candidate will win votes only from Muslims. I hope to win the support of both communities.” Among the Hindus are OBC communities such as the Chauhans, Sainis and Mauryas in the constituency and BSP hopes that the caste group which does not get the BJP ticket will move to them.
He also relies on his past. “Look, the coronation of the Nawab of Rampur - my ancestors - was done by a Brahman. The last Raj Purohit of the state was the father in law of Murli Manohar Joshi (senior BJP leader). My family built the largest temple here.” By contrast, he argues that Azam Khan’s politics can only succeed in areas with complete Muslim majority. “Rampur district has 48% Muslims; the city has 85% Muslims — his politics of division only works in the city.”
Swar-Tanda also, unusually, has 12,000 Sikh votes. Khan explains that soon after Partition, his grandfather - the then ruler - decided that Rampur would become the first state to accede to India. He however sent those Muslims who wished to go to Pakistan in two trains, with full security. On their way back, these trains brought Sikhs of the Punjab. The ruler then gave them land. At a corner meeting in the Sikh-dominated Rajpur village, bordering Uttarakhand, Khan reminds his voters of this nugget.
Back in Rampur city, at the SP office, a large crowd roars as Azam Khan ends his speech.
But the real focus is on his son. Abdullah Azam Khan finished his civil engineering in a Noida college, and claims the people of Swar wanted him to stand. “You have to understand the Nawab’s history. Their family supported the British during the 1857 rebellion. He has been in all parties; his father and mother have been MPs here, yet no development has taken place.” He and his father deny, in separate interviews with HT, that their politics is communal and extreme.
Rampur’s battle is intriguing for it challenges general conceptions of the powerful and the subaltern. Is a Muslim royal hoping to win with Dalit support and a moderate, inclusive image the true representative of people, or is a new leader from a dynast who may come from humbler roots but now is the epitome of Muslim political power in the state the man of the people? March 11 will tell.