Voting for the second phase of the seven-phased Uttar Pradesh elections will decide the fate of several political heavyweights in 67 assembly constituencies spread over 11 districts of western region of the state.
Big names facing crucial test are Samajwadi Party minister Azam Khan and his son Abdullah Azam, former minister in Manmohan Singh government, Jitin Prasada, BJP Legislature Party leader Suresh Kumar Khanna, state ministers Mehboob Ali from and Iqbal Mahmood.
Districts going for poll in the second phase are Rampur, Saharanpur, Bijnor, Moradabad, Sambhal, Bareilly, Amroha, Pilibhit, Kheri, Shahjahanpur and Badaun.
Although Uttar Pradesh has historically voted along the caste and religion lines, performance (or lack of it) and demonetisation have become two key factors determining the voters’ decision.
Rampur seat has traditionally been deemed as a safe seat for Azam Khan, but not this time, said many voters in the town despite signs of extraordinary development in the constuency.
20-year-old Jamal is a first time voter. He told me that although he would vote for Khan because of considerable development in the area, there was a palpable anger among certain sections of Rampur who formed a key part of the SP minister’s vote-bank.
He said, “Mantri (minister) sahab had ordered the demolition of several houses belonging to Ghosi community in the area. Since then, the Ghosis, who have quite a sizeable presence in the constituency, have gone towards BSP’s Tanveer Khan.”
The town was also abuzz with rumours that Tanveer was likely to secure the votes of BJP supporters, who were reportedly determined to cause defeat to Khan.
Also facing a tough battle is another SP minister, Iqbal Mahmood in Sambhal, where the debutant AIMIM has fielded popular local candidate Ziaur Rahman Barq.
Barq’s grand-father Shafiqur Rahman Barq had represented the seat four times each in Lok Sabha and state assembly in the past.
The palpable anger against Mahmood is such that many traditional SP supporters have now decided to vote for Barq.
“Iqbal Mahmood may be a nice man but he has never been accessible to his constituents. We were too insignificant to him. Then we also had to face constant terror from his sons, who really abused his father’s position to wreak havoc in the area. I think it’s time for a change,” said a local shopkeeper wishing to remain anonymous.
Also going in Barq’s favour is his Turk caste, which forms the largest chunk of Muslim population in Sambhal constituency. An overwhelming majority of the local voters felt that Asaduddin Owaisi’s party was all set to open its account in Uttar Pradesh from Sambhal.
Even some of Mahmood’s close friends did not rule out the scenario of the minister possibly losing to Barq in this year’s elections but added that BSP’s Rafatullah, also a Turk Muslim, was likely to eat into AIMIM candidate’s votes.
Thanks to the ‘Modi wave,’ the BJP had won Sambhal parliamentary seat in Lok Sabha elections in 2014.
Another notable seat going for poll on Wednesday was Suar-Tanda in Rampur. Challenging the local domination of Nawab Kazim Ali Khan, also known as Naved Mian, is Azam Khan’s son, Abdullah Azam.
Many locals both in villages and town informed me that Abdullah was likely to end the years of Naved Mian’s dominance. Naved has represented Suar-Tanda for three terms both on Congress and BSP tickets in the past. He had won the seat as Congress candidate in 2012 but changed his loyalty in favour of Mayawati’s party just before this year’s elections.
Naved, who’s a motor-parts mechanic and runs a shop in Suar town said, “We gave 15 years to Naved Mian. He didn’t do anything. But, mantri ji (Azam Khan) gave us roads, solved our sewage problems and turned Suar into a such a developed town. Where you are standing now used to be a dusty patch, but Khan sahab allocated crores of rupees to lay tiles on the pavements and improve the town’s drainage system.”
Azam Khan, it seems, has been cultivating this constituency for his son for several years. He had allocated crores of rupees to improve the roads and on other development projects. The area, often an entry point to Nainital for tourists arriving from Delhi, has undergone a spectacular transformation.
The high profile UP minister though shrugged off the charges of giving special treatment to Suar-Tanda constituency ahead of polls.
He told me with a wry smile, “I believe in development and my model of development doesn’t discriminate people, regions or their castes and religion. You can see the development yourself. Our opponents have no tangible issue against me or my son. The most credible issue they have picked up against my son is that he, according to them, is under-aged. Now, I am worried that because of his minor status, we will face problems in getting him married?”
BJP too has its support in pockets across the region that went to polls on Wednesday.
Dr Prem Pal of Madhupura village said, “Our booth will only vote for phool (BJP). That’s because our development has been only due to the BJP.”
Ved Ram of Suar-Tanda too agreed, “BJP’s votes never get divided here. We will vote for the BJP only because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
In Amroha, another SP minister Mehboob Ali is facing tough competition.
Few elders in Amroha I spoke to appeared unanimous that their votes will no longer go in favour of Ali. Despite the constituency having considerably large Muslim votes, the minority votes were likely to get divided between SP and Naushad Engineer of the BSP.
Of the 67 seats at stake, ruling Samajwadi Party had won 34 in 2012, followed by BSP 18, BJP 10, Congress three and others two.
With Congress-SP coming together, their vote share is likely to increase considerably. Additionally, like the first phase, Muslim votes will play a key role in deciding the fate of candidates even in the region going for the second phase of elections. However, a lot will depend if their votes remain united in favour of one party or get divided among SP, BSP and AIMIM. In the event of a division, BJP stands to make a considerable gain.
The next five phases of polling will be held on February 19, 23, 27 and on March 4 and 8. Counting of votes will be taken up on March 11.
Coming up: Facebook Live by Rifat Jawaid at 10 PM tonight with overall analysis of phase 1 and 2 of UP Polls
(With additional inputs from PTI)