Lok Sabha: In Rampur, Dismay Over SP's Treatment Of Azam Khan Among Loyalists

Samajwadi Party has has not fielded the candidate backed by jailed leader Azam Khan in 2024 elections for Rampur.

5 min read
Hindi Female

In Samajwadi Party’s Rampur office, Azam Khan’s picture can still be seen right next to party chief Akhilesh Yadav’s picture in the banner. Despite this, Azam Khan’s apparent choice of candidate for the Rampur seat— a stronghold for decades—was completely neglected by the party. Admiration for Azam Khan is still palpable among his loyalist cadre, but now, that admiration is accompanied with a frank acknowledgment of his waning influence, both within the party and outside of it.  

Azam Khan, a 10-time MLA from Rampur Sadar and one-time MP from Rampur, was arrested back in 2020 over alleged forgery of his son Abdullah’s birth certificate, so that the latter can become eligible to contest elections. This came to be known as the ‘birth certificate forgery case’. Khan was released on bail by the Supreme Court in May 2022, but was again arrested in October 2023 after being convicted in a hate speech case from the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.


He was then disqualified from the UP assembly. Khan’s wife Tazeen Fatima was also arrested. In 2023, Khan’s son Abdullah, who was an MLA from the Suar constituency in Rampur, was disqualified after his conviction in a case related to blocking the traffic from over 15 years back.

With the entire family either jailed or disqualified, it was assumed that the candidate backed by Khan would be given the party ticket from Rampur ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in the seat, to be held on 19 April. But the party leadership had other plans.  

SP's Rampur Candidate

On 28 March, till the final hour of the filing of nominations, it was unclear who the SP’s Rampur candidate would be. While SP Rampur president and Azam Khan loyalist Asim Raja filed his papers, claiming to the be the official party candidate, the party had chosen an unlikely and brand new candidate: Mohibullah Nadvi. Nadvi, a cleric for nearly two decades in New Delhi’s parliament mosque, hails from Rampur. Raja had unsuccessfully contested for the Rampur state assembly seat in a 2022 bypoll after Azam Khan went to jail.

But the consensus among Azam Khan’s followers continues to be that it was a ‘rigged’ election, just like the bypoll lost by SP’s Anuradha Chauhan on the Rampur Suar constituency in 2023, held previously by Abdullah. Major protests were held in that seat too after the loss. “It’s a given that if Azam Khan backs a leaf, even that leaf has a greater chance of winning than any party’s candidate,” says Osama Khan, an Azam Khan loyalist in Rampur.  


On the other hand, Nadvi, despite being the official SP candidate, isn’t enjoying much backing from SP office bearers himself. His team members complain that both Raja, who is the SP Rampur president, as well as the SP district president Ajay Sagar have been absent from the rallies for Nadvi. While Raja has stayed mum on his candidature not being accepted, he has also maintained his distance from the ongoing elections, citing health reasons.

Regardless, Mohibullah isn’t a very well known face in Rampur, largely seen as a “Delhi resident”. “He has lived in Delhi for two decades, and now has suddenly been airdropped to contest from Rampur, it doesn’t make much sense. I don’t know what is on the party’s mind,” says Asif Ali, a Rampur resident. 

Dismay Among Azam Khan's Cadre

Despite a lack of confidence in SP’s candidate choice, even the erstwhile Azam Khan cadre is clear about not coming out and rebelling against the party.  

“We want to protest for Azam Khan. We want him to be released from jail. But if the party chief (Akhilesh Yadav) isn’t speaking up for him, then who are we? If even he is scared, then we would be too,” says a 44-year-old party worker who lives in Suar, Rampur. Interestingly, the worker has deleted all his social media accounts—which were effectively working as fan pages for Azam Khan—and has made new ones. His WhatsApp DP is a photograph of him felicitating a top BJP leader. “In my heart, I will be an Azam Khan loyalist till I die. But I am a man with a family. I have to distance myself from him publicly,” the worker says.

Another worker, Turovan Singh Yadav, has been a part of the Azam Khan cadre since 2000. “Hum Samajwadi nahi, Azam-wadi hai (We are not Samjwadi followers, We are Azam Khan followers)” he says.

Samajwadi Party has has not fielded the candidate backed by jailed leader Azam Khan in 2024 elections for Rampur.

Turovan Singh Yadav is an Azam Khan loyalist for 2 decades.

(Fatima Khan/ The Quint) 

Yadav, 56, says he is not scared of coming out in public in support of Khan. “Today, the sympathy for Azam Khan has only increased, not decreased. And that’s not just among Muslims, but also Hindus. I am a practicing Hindu, and I see have no qualms in admitting I am an Azam Khan fan,” says Yadav.  

Yadav is critical of the SP leadership for not backing Azam Khan publicly. “All leaders take advantage of Azam Khan’s support and then abandon him. Look at Shafeeq Ansari,” says Yadav. Shafeeq Ansari, an Apna Dal leader and NDA ally won the Rampur-Suar constituency bypoll in 2023, defeating the SP. Ansari was previously a close aide of Azam Khan.  

Samajwadi Party has has not fielded the candidate backed by jailed leader Azam Khan in 2024 elections for Rampur.

Shafeeq Ansari was earlier a close aide of Azam Khan. 

'We Have No Option But To Support INDIA'

These internal complex party dynamics notwithstanding, most Muslims in Rampur say they have “no option” but to vote for the INDIA candidate. “Hamari Majboori hai (We have our compulsions)” says Rauf Khan, a Rampur resident. Muslims make for over 50 per cent of the population in Rampur. The BJP has fielded the sitting Rampur MP Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi, who had won the Rampur Lok Sabha seat in the 2022 bypolls after Azam Khan had vacated the seat to contest the assembly polls. 
The SP is part of the INDIA bloc, and thus other parties of the alliance like Congress and AAP have expressed their support to their UP candidates. While neither parties have a significant Lok Sabha presence, they do have an active cadre base in the seat. AAP candidates had won the 2023 local body polls for chairperson of Rampur Nagar Palika Parishad and neighboring Kaimri Nagar Panchayat. “We expect them to back our candidate and employ their local cadre to actively campaign for us,” says one team member of the Mohibullah Nadvi camp.  
“Ultimately, we have to support whoever is the INDIA candidate, we can’t afford to have BJP win this seat,” says Rahat Azeem, a local resident.  

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