In 2016 Dinesh Lal Yadav ‘Nirahua’, the Bhojpuri cine star, was honoured with Uttar Pradesh’s top award Yash Bharati. In that felicitation function the then Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav sang paeans in his favour. He even called Nirahua the biggest ambassador of UP’s culture. Three years down the line `Nirahua’ is locking horns with Akhilesh in the battle of ballot from Azamgarh.
“I gave him Yash Bharati and now he is contesting against me,” Akhilesh Yadav said in one of his routine press conferences. “I am not surprised that he is contesting Lok Sabha election but am hurt that he is contesting on a BJP ticket,” he said.
The selection of Nirahua as candidate, that too from Azamgarh, came as a big surprise. The BJP opted for this Bhojpuri singer and pitted him against Akhilesh against all odds. Politically he is a novice. He joined BJP in April first week and within a week he was declared the candidate from Azamgarh in place of Ramakant Yadav, a local influential leader who was fielded by BJP in the last election against Mulayam Singh Yadav.
The popular singer is a craze among youth in eastern UP. BJP believes that if that craze can be transformed into votes, Nirahua can beat Akhilesh.
The youth have made a clear cut choice. “We love Nirahua. We will watch Nirahua’s movies but will vote for Akhilesh because it is an election for the Lok sabha not Bollywood,’ Amrit Yadav, a student of Shibli National College said.
He is a first time voter and wants to use his vote judiciously. “A majority of my friends will vote for Akhilesh,” he said.
Azamgarh, one of the main cities of eastern Uttar Pradesh, had been a centre of cultural heritage but it came under a cloud following the Batla House encounter in New Delhi. As this city is associated with Kaifi Aazmi, it conjures an image of a city rich in its culture and which takes pride in that heritage.
The constituency has always been Samajwadi party bastion as its candidate won elections in most of the elections. When SP did not win, it was BSP that emerged victorious from this important constituency. With SP and BSP joining hands this time, the equation is now heavily loaded in favour of the Samajwadi party and it is advantage Akhilesh from the onset.
What makes the SP confident is the caste equation of this constituency which has a substantial population of Yadavs, Jatavs and Muslims – who constitute the bulwark of Mahagathbandhan. The previous history of this constituency is clear reflection of the alliance’s supremacy as only Muslims and Yadavs have won elections from Azamgarh since 1996.
In the 2014 election, Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav defeated Ramakant Yadav of BJP by over 65,000 votes despite a strong Modi wave sweeping Uttar Pradesh. Azamgarh was one of the five seats SP had won in 2014.
Incidentally, Ramakant Yadav had won the 2009 election from Azamgarh on BJP ticket. Before that he had won elections from here in 1996 and 1999 on SP ticket and in 2004 on BSP ticket.
“This election pattern shows that Ramakant Yadav is an old war horse and holds massive support in Azamgarh. Despite he being MP from 1996 to 2009 he was humbled by Mulayam Singh Yadav. This shows the influence Akhilesh and his family enjoy here,” Mr Arif Siidiqui of Sibli national College, in Azamgarh said.
In last elections Mulayam Singh polled 35.43 per cent votes while Ramakant Yadav got 28.85 per cent votes and BSP candidate Shah Alam got 27.75 per cent. “Look at the arithmetic. The combined vote share of the SP and the BSP in Azamgarh was over 63 per cent. In this scenario, Akhilesh is miles ahead of Nirahua,” he said.