Azam Khan vs Jayaprada face-off was certain to be interesting. However, no one had thought that the election for Rampur’s parliamentary seat will spiral out of control for the Samajwadi Party strongman from the former princely state of Rampur who has wielded power in the town and in the party for the last several decades. He is one of the longest serving legislators in UP assembly and has his entire family in politics now.
While his son Abdullah Azam Khan is also an MLA, who in the last assembly elections of 2017 decimated the scion of the local royalty by a huge margin of more than a hundred thousand votes, his wife, a retired professor is a member of Rajya Sabha. A fiery speaker who initially honed his oratorical skills in Aligarh Muslim University’s students union, he took on the nawabs of the erstwhile state of Rampur single handedly. The city used to be a sleepy town when he entered the local politics in late seventies and won assembly election for the very first time in the year 1980. Since then he has tested defeat only ones.
While Azam Khan is equally loved and despised by the local populace, as is the case outside the town, he has angered almost every section of the society one way or the other.
History of ‘foot in mouth’ disease
There is no denying the fact that despite being a lawyer by training, he suffers from ‘foot in mouth’ disease. He has always hogged the limelight for making insane comments not just against the local nawabs, whom he has almost destroyed over the decades. To be true, he thrives in controversies. His comment regarding the khaki color of Jayaprada’s underwear was not the first controversial comment. Khan has made dozens of similar or more obscene comments in the past and will continue to do so in future.
One of the most controversial remarks that Azam Khan has made was regarding the Kargil war. He claimed that the Muslim soldiers of the Indian army were behind the defeat of the Pakistani intruders in the snowy peaks of Kargil. While addressing an election rally in the state in the last Lok Sabha election in the year 2014, the wily politician said, "Those who fought for victory in Kargil were not Hindu soldiers. In fact the ones who fought for our victory were Muslim soldiers". If that was not enough, a couple of years later, Khan went on to claim that due to violence perpetrated by army in North East, "women in some places are chopping off the private parts of Army men".
Not just he makes the most controversial remarks against everyone, he also gets away with it and presents himself as victim of bias. When his comment on Kargil was criticized by the media and an FIR FIR was filed against him, Khan still refused to apologize for what he said and later accused the Indian Election Commission of bias against him because of him being a Muslim politician.
To be fair, the year 2014 was the year when he seems to have made the largest number of controversial comments. From Narendra Modi to Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, he spewed venom against everyone. While addressing a poll meet on 11 April 2014, Khan said that Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had been punished by Allah for "forcible" sterilisation during the Emergency and "shilanyas" at the disputed site in Ayodhya.
A divisive personality
There is no denying the fact that Azam Khan has emerged as the most divisive personality in the state politics. He built his political career on the emotive issue of Babri Masjid as the convener of the Babri Masjid Action Committee. His fiery speeches during the height of Babri Masjid/ Ram Janambhoomi campaign presented him as a polarizing factor in state politics, with many Muslims branding him a messiah, while Hindu electorate branding him a demon.
However, he has tried to change his image recently. The successful management of Mahakumbh in Allahabad under his stewardship won him personal accolades from many Hindu seers and common pilgrims. There is no denying that he has strengthened that image in recent years, by trying to avoid divisive issues as he did till the Last Lok Sabha elections.
Why he will still win?
Notwithstanding the fact that there is a section of population in the town and beyond that abhors Azam Khan, there is a larger section of the population who loves him. The first and foremost reason for the wide support that he enjoys in the area is because of the work he has done for his fief.
Over the decades, he has changed the face of the city and its suburbs. The historic town that was known to be the filthiest, most impoverished and backward town in the state couldn’t have a contrasting look now. The wide roads, swanky shopping centers and greenery give the town a modern look. Besides, the town where the nawabs couldn’t open a single college after the independence, he has established a massive university. While many will claim that it is a private university and way beyond the means of the local population to afford getting admission there, it still provides education to locals and employment opportunities to many here. Another aspect that most be appreciated is the fact that he has opened a chain of affordable CBSE schools in town, for boys and girls, to ensure that the most conservative Muslims too send their daughters to school. The best part of these schools is the fact that these are inexpensive schools charging merely 700-800 tuition fee.
Caste arithmetic too supports him here. The fact that Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are fighting polls together will ensure the success of Khan like many other candidates of Mahagathbandhan. In 2014 Lok Sabha election, BJP’s Dr Nepal Singh had won the seat with a margin of merely 22000 votes, getting 37 percent votes, compared to 35 percent vote share of SP’s Naseer Ahmad Khan, an Azam protégé. BSP had got 8 percent votes, while the Congress’ Kazim Ali Khan had got 16 percent vote. Now the SP and the BSP are fighting together and the Congress has given ticket to a rather very weak candidate to ensure an easy win for Azam Khan. Had Congress given ticket to Kazim Ali Khan, scion of the nawab family, again, his victory wouldn’t have looked smooth.
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