The political travels as well as travails of Imran Masood, an influential young Muslim politician of the Saharanpur region in Western Uttar Pradesh reflect the plight of leaders belonging to the community in the state. The current year has seen Masood switch from the Congress to the Samajwadi Party and now to the Bahujan Samaj Party, in a desperate bid to remain politically relevant.
His recent political gyrations are particularly telling since he has, over the past decade, been seen as a promising Muslim leader with a large personal following among his community in and around Saharanpur.
Indeed, many political observers saw Imran Masood as the political successor of his uncle Rasheed Masood —nine times Member of Parliament, five terms in the Lok Sabha and four in the Rajya Sabha. Masood senior was regarded as one of the most powerful Muslim leaders of Western Uttar Pradesh and was widely respected successively in the Lok Dal, Janata Party, Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and the Congress.
Despite his uncle favouring his own son Shadan Masood over Imran, it was the latter who emerged over the past decade as taking over the legacy of the Masood family and rising rapidly as a Congress leader.
No Electoral Success in Masood’s Congress Stint
Known to be extremely close to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the young Muslim leader became Uttar Pradesh Congress vice-president, member of the Advisory Council of the party state unit, and National Secretary of the All India Congress Committee. However, despite his personal popularity and rise within the Congress, Masood proved to be extremely unlucky in elections.
After winning his first election as an independent candidate from Muzaffarabad in the 2007 state assembly elections, he has repeatedly failed to win both assembly and parliamentary polls on a Congress ticket despite getting a sizeable number of votes each time but once in the 2012 state assembly polls, Masood got over 36 percent votes but was narrowly defeated by the BSP candidate Dharam Singh Saini by less than two percent votes.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when the Muslim leader provoked controversy and even got arrested after threatening while campaigning to chop up Narendra Modi into pieces if he tried to replicate Gujarat riots in Uttar Pradesh, he nevertheless managed to get over 34 percent votes in Saharanpur but was defeated by a few percent votes by the BJP candidate.
He was pipped to the post once again when contesting the 2017 assembly polls from Nakur by his old rival Dharam Singh Saini, now defected from the BSP to the BJP by barely one percent margin.
Election analysts felt that each time Masood had fallen short of the winning post by a small margin because of sabotage by his uncle Rasheed Masood who despite being in Congress, wanted to promote his son.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls,however, there was a grand reconciliation between uncle and nephew, apparently brokered by Priyanka Gandhi herself but it was too late because the electoral alliance between the BSP and SP consolidated the entire Muslim vote behind them.
Masood and the Shift in Muslim Tide in UP
For the first time in his electoral career, the vote percentage of Masood contesting from Saharanpur once again slumped to barely 16 percent, coming a poor third behind the winning BSP and runner-up BJP candidates.
Three years later, just before the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls earlier this year, as more and more Muslims gravitated to the Samajwadi Party alliance in Western Uttar Pradesh and other regions in the state as well, Masood decided to quit the Congress and join the Samajwadi Party after failing to broker a deal between the two parties.
Before leaving the Congress, he praised his mentor Priyanka for her hard work but said that he was joining the Samajwadi Party because it seemed to be the only credible force to defeat the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP juggernaut and “save democracy”.
Unfortunately, for the hapless Muslim leader, the move to the Samajwadi Party turned out disastrous. Apparently, SP supremo Akhilesh Yadav’s close aides advised him that Masood had lost his appeal among Muslim votes and neither he nor his followers were given election tickets. The Samajwadi Party alliance did well getting over 35 percent vote but winning 125 seats far short of the BJP in the elections which turned out to be a bipolar contest wiping out the BSP and the Congress. Masood was himself out in the cold and bitterly told correspondents “I have been treated like a dog by the Samajwadi Party!”
The Muslim leader joining the BSP which has made him the party coordinator of Western Uttar Pradesh is not surprising but the prospects for both Masood and his new party does not look particularly bright. In fact, political observers in Lucknow feel that the BSP is now a faded, jaded political force with its leader the once almighty Behenji Mayawati reportedly under the threat of corruption cases by the central agencies.
“It is an open secret that Maywati who gave the maximum number of tickets to Muslims in the last elections is acting on behalf of the BJP to split the Muslim vote wherever possible. The induction of Imran Masood in the BSP may have the same agenda”, remarked a senior Lucknow journalist.
The tragedy of Imran Masood is also the tragedy of the Muslim community in Uttar Pradesh who despite numbering 40 million and nearly 20 percent of the population have been unable to maneuver electoral politics to its advantage and shake off the shackles of an openly repressive regime.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist and the author of ‘Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati’. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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