The geographical distance of 100km that divides the key constituencies of Varanasi and Azamgarh is no daunting space in politics, where fame travels in crow flights. But Azamgarh is as untouched by any Narendra Modi wave as Varanasi is undeterred by Mulayam Singh’s political clout.
Speculation here is about the runners-up slot. Who’d be the number two after Mulayam in Azamgarh and who’d trail Modi the closest in Kashi?
The winners decided, the contest shrinks between the BSP’s Guddu Jamali and the BJP’s Ramakant Yadav in the area Amit Shah derided as a “terrorist hub” the other day. In Varanasi, the scramble for silver is between Arvind Kejriwal of AAP and the Congress’s Ajay Rai.
Rahul Gandhi’s Saturday rally for Rai got a huge response in Muslim localities, lifting the Congress’s hope of a respectable share in the minority vote that will decide the fight against Kejriwal, who too has a vibrant connect with the city’s 3 lakh-plus Muslim electorate.
Mercifully, the widely apprehended communal divide hasn’t manifested in either seat with sizeable Muslim populations. That Mulayam’s candidature has neutralised Modi’s appeal among the Azamgarh youth was evident from the tepid response to the PM aspirant’s rally. Local observers in Azamgarh rated it as a flop.
The turnout for Modi was way better in nearby Lal Ganj, a reserved constituency that houses Sarai Meer, the native village of the Batla House accused. Aided by the Modi impact, the BJP expects to wrest this seat from the BSP.
For his part, the SP chief has had to fight for every inch of the ground he has gained since his candidature, thanks to the Akhilesh government’s poor governance and the local Rajput community’s ire against the Yadav family for having failed to condole the murder of the scion of a leading Thakur family in the area.
Read: Expats return to Azamgarh on poll vacation, root for Mulayam
Had Mulayam not entered the fray, the BJP’s Ramakant could have slept through the election: “Woh sotey sotey jeet jatey.” But now, it seems, “netaji rotey rotey jeet jayenge”, the barb aimed at the SP chief’s emotional interface with voters through prominent caste leaders holding ministerial and other positions in the SP regime in Lucknow.
Hordes of Mulayam’s supporters among businessmen, industrialists and state-level bigwigs have been in and out of Azamgarh in the recent days. The list includes Azam Khan, Abu Azmi, Raja Bhaiya, Naresh Aggarwal and Narad Rai. It has been an eclectic mix of Muslims, Yadavs, Bhumihaars, Kurmis, Brahmins, Vaishyas and Rajputs.
A slogan that rings in Azamgarh’s crowded streets evokes Yadav pride; it highlights Mulayam’s capacity to create a hundred leaders like his BJP rival: “Eik Mulayam sou Ramakant bana sakta hai par sau Ramakant eik Mulayam nahin bana sakte....”
Nine of the 10 Azamgarh assembly seats have SP legislators, and they have invested their prestige to ensure Mulayam’s victory. “We win using his name. How can he be defeated in our constituency?” they reason with their constituents. The strategy is paying dividends. The initial Muslim-Yadav disaffection from the SP government is ebbing out.
Akhilesh’s unfinished tenure of three years makes sound real his promise of investments for development in Azamgarh. That makes the people’s choice easier. They’d rather go with the Mulayam-Akhilesh they know than with the Modi-Shah they don’t.
What seems to work in Azamgarh has limited appeal in Varanasi. As Congress crowds walked shouting “Modi tou Gujarat rahega, Ajay Rai saath rahega”, a clutch of youngsters donning saffron caps sang in a chorus the BJP’s anthem for Kashi: “Har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi.”