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The Times of India
The Times of India
Pankaj Shah | TNN

UP bypolls: Battlelines drawn as Samajwadi Party gears up to save bastions

LUCKNOW: Battlelines are drawn in Uttar Pradesh where the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party will face the crucial test of saving its bastions of Mainpuri and Rampur from an 'ambitious' BJP in high-stakes bypolls on Monday.

The Mainpuri Lok Sabha and Rampur assembly seats had fallen vacant following the demise of SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and disqualification of senior SP lawmaker Azam Khan following his conviction in a hate speech case.

The BJP will also seek to retain Khatauli where bypoll has been necessitated following the disqualification of BJP MLA Vikram Saini on charges of his alleged involvement in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.

BJP has fielded Vikram’s wife Rajkumari Saini, a former gram pradhan of Kawal village in Muzaffarnagar. She is up against SP-backed RLD candidate Madan Gopal aka Madan Bhaiyya, a known strongman from Ghaziabad.

The Mainpuri bypoll has attracted arc lights in the backdrop of Akhilesh mending fences with his uncle and Jaswantnagar MLA Shivpal Yadav.

According to political analysts, unification of the Yadav family will undergo a high- degree poll trial in Mainpuri where Akhilesh’s wife Dimple Yadav will take on BJP’s Raghuraj Singh Shakya, an SP turncoat.

Poll analysts point out that the SP is bound to bank on not only the ‘sympathy factor’ on account of Mulayam’s death but also on the role of Shivpal who has been pulling all stops to save the constituency from the saffron juggernaut. Not surprisingly, Shivpal has been at the cross-hairs of senior saffron ranks including CM Yogi Adityanath who recently lampooned him terming him a “pendulum” and a “football” – a remark that evoked sharp riposte from Akhilesh.

The Election Commission’s data show that in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when SP and BSP forged an alliance, it was Jaswantnagar assembly segment that accounted for the lion’s share of 66% of Mulayam’s winning margin in Mainpuri.

Significantly, Shakya is also a native of Jaswantnagar and has been a two-time SP MP (1999 and 2004) from Etawah. Jaswantnagar was earlier a part of Etawah parliamentary seat until the delimitation exercise shifted it to Mainpuri and turned Etawah a reserved seat.

A high-pitched poll contest also brews in Rampur, the stronghold of Azam Khan, who has been winning the Muslim-dominated assembly seat since 1980, except in 1996 when he was defeated by Congress’s Afroz Ali Khan. Experts said Azam has his prestige at stake – six months after the BJP’s Ghanshyam Lodhi wrested the Rampur Lok Sabha seat from SP in a bypoll.

SP had retained the Rampur assembly seat in the 2019 bypolls when Azam’s wife Tazeen Fatima defeated BJP’s Bharat Bhushan Gupta by a margin of around 8,000 votes.

Bypoll was necessitated in Rampur in June this year after Azam quit the seat to contest the 2022 UP elections from his pocket borough of Rampur assembly seat. Azam won the seat for the 10th time, defeating BJP’s Akash Saxena by a margin of over 55,000 votes. Akash, a known Azam baiter, is back in fray, this time to challenge Azam’s associate Aasim Raja who was earlier defeated by Lodhi in Rampur Lok Sabha byelection.

According to analysts, BJP has been making a spirited bid to reach out to the Muslim community which forms around 65% of the electorate in the constituency. BJP has been lending traction to its minority outreach by holding a Pasmanda Muslim convention besides getting the support of SP defectors including Azam’s close aide Fasahat Ali Khan alias Shanu and Congressman Nawab Kazim Ali, who eventually got expelled from the party.

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