A restless crowd gathered at a school ground in Sambhal, some 250 km southeast of Delhi, chanting slogans in a pitch so high that they nearly matched the thundering of the helicopter from which hopped out socialist czar Mulayam Singh Yadav. The petite wrestler, who emerged from a cloud of dust raised by the chopper's rotors, is a pale shadow of his impassioned description.
Though excited crowds were enthusiastic in their cheering, the Yadav chieftain was visibly disturbed — perhaps realising that the political ground beneath him is shaky. The Yadavs and Muslims vote banks that he has assiduously protected over the years is distancing form his Samajwadi Party (SP). Pleading with Muslims not to abandon him, counting instances of support to the community, he asked Yadavs not to spoil his party in Delhi at the fag end of his political career. "Time has come for us to rule or atleast become a factor in Delhi to bring prosperity to Uttar Pradesh (UP). Will you leave me in mid-stream?" he asked, fully aware that BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has caught the imagination of the young Hindu population, including the Yadavs.
Travelling this belt of UP from the districts of Sambhal, Moradabad, Amroha to Rampur, it is apparent that Muslim voters are facing a peculiar choice: should they punish the SP for Muzaffarnagar riots and abandon the secular consolidation to allow Modi to reach Delhi? "It is a difficult choice. We have to choose between two 'Ms' — Muzaffarnagar and Modi. By and large, tempers will cool down to look at the larger picture, which is to stop Modi rather than continuing to weep over Muzaffarnagar riots," said Chaudhry Sharf Ali Khan, a shopkeeper in Sambhal market.
Young Yadavs are facing a similar dilemma. Ram Avtar Yadav of the Moradabad Institute of Technology told dna that while he would like to see a larger political role for netaji (Mulayam Singh) for the sake of his community, he wanted to give Modi a chance to rule at the Centre. "I had made a choice — netaji for Lucknow and Modi for Delhi, but with netaji saying this is the last chance for him to find a big role in Delhi, I may review my choice after discussing with other friends," said Ram, adding he wanted to test Modi's Gujarat model of development in his poor and backward state.
Analysts in Delhi may be writing an epitaph for the Congress, but those with ears on ground here say the end is not so near just as yet. Social scientist Mohammad Mostaqeem, from Amroha, believes the party will repeat its 2009 performance, partially and may sail through in as many as 10 seats. But he agrees that a resurgent BJP is leading the numbers game though not to the extent to which opinion polls want us to believe. "I will give BJP between 30 and 35 seats from UP," he says, counting the party's strengths and weaknesses in different regions.
When dna tried to locate the Congress candidate from Sambhal, saffron-robbed Acharya Pramod Krishnam was nowhere to be found. But Kazim Ali was firmly on ground in his home seat Rampur, where various forces have consolidated to punish SP's strongman, Nasheed Ahmed Khan (Azam Khan's choice).
Fresh from the rally, the saffron-robed Krishnam said his priority was to fight communalism. He had earlier tried to float the Hindustan United Movement (HUM), alongwith Barelvi Muslim cleric Maulana Tauqir Raza. He had been repeatedly denied a ticket in the past. He says that the Congress had a chance to revive after Mohammad Azharuddin won the 2009 election from nearby Moradabad. "But nobody tried to revive the party," he said.
In Moradabad, people said they were craving to teach a lesson to Azharuddin for ignoring them for the last five years, but fortunately for him, he is contesting from Rajasthan. Pointing out Azhar's escapades, Anil Kumar pointed to a mini-stadium meant for football and hockey, where the cricketer-turned-politician used his money to put up flood lights. "We had been pleading with him to first make the stadium fit for playing cricket and then assign the money for flood lights. To make matters worse, there is no generator and the mini-stadium is not even finished," he added.