Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav filed his nomination from Azamgarh this afternoon, even as thousands of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) workers lined up along the streets leading to the District Magistrate's office in support.
Akhilesh Yadav was accompanied by BSP general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra. In this eastern Uttar Pradesh constituency, he will face off against Bhojpuri superstar Nirahua or Dinesh Lal Yadav, who is contesting for the first time on a BJP ticket.
Azamgarh is held by Akhilesh Yadav's father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is shifting back to the Yadav family bastion of Mainpuri - the other seat he had won in 2014. With the exception of 2009, when local strongman Ramakant Yadav won on a BJP ticket, the constituency has either been with the Samajwadi Party or BSP since 1996. But Ramakant Yadav has defected to the Congress this time, and is fighting from a neighbouring seat.
However, not everybody is enthralled by the glitz and glamour of the high-profile contest in Azamgarh. Kunju Sonkar, an 82-year-old vegetable seller who lives on the fringes of the eastern Uttar Pradesh town, says all he wants from politicians this election is justice for his 22-year-old son Channu, who was killed in an alleged fake encounter in 2018.
Channu was among seven people who were killed in encounters across Azamgarh ever since Yogi Adityanath took over as the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. While over 60 people were killed and hundreds injured in over 1,500 encounters carried out under the BJP rule across Uttar Pradesh, the seven deaths in Azamgarh are the highest from a single district. In Azamgarh, all but one of the victims were either from Scheduled Castes or Other Backward Classes families.
Police claim that Channu had at least 12 criminal cases lodged against him, and was killed in retaliatory fire. His family, however, denies claims about Channu being a hardened criminal and maintains that he was shot dead in a fake encounter.
A magisterial probe is being conducted into the case, and the National Human Rights Commission is also looking into it. The family, however, claims that the police are not releasing critical documents such as his post-mortem report. "Such encounters didn't happen when Mulayam and Mayawati were in power. But then came Modi, and big criminals are being allowed to roam free while small fry are being shot dead," said Jhabbu Sonkar, Channu's brother.
The issue of encounters are being raised by the Samajwadi Party as well as the BJP in their election campaigns, but in different ways. While Yogi Adityanath terms them as proof of good governance, Akhilesh Yadav says they are a blot on the ruling government.
"This election is about a chowkidaar (watchman), but we have a Chief Minister who is a thokidaar (encounter specialist) too. He says work with a thoko neeti (encounter policy). The police is confused about who to thoko, and so they are killing innocent people," the Samajwadi Party chief said at a rally after his Azamgarh nomination
"Yogiji is openly saying 'thok denge (will knock them down)' at rallies. In such a situation, the police are left with no option," said Rajeev Yadav, a social worker from Azamgarh who is helping the families of encounter victims.