The Rampur constituency in western Uttar Pradesh has been in the headlines over the last weeks for the war of words between its two contenders - Samajwadi Party's Azam Khan and the BJP's Jaya Prada. But what makes the battle for the Rampur so savage is that the constituency, with its 50 per cent Muslim population, is key to the state's minority community vote, since it is expected to influence the members of the community living elsewhere.
The area is famous for its 'zardozi' embroidery and most craftsmen and traders are Muslims. Religion aside, voters of Rampur suffer from unemployment. Still, most of its residents belong to low-income groups.
Among them, Owais Khan, a 48-year-old handicrafts trader, blames the BJP rule for his losses. "Firstly, all our export stopped because subsidies were reduced. Then the Goods and Services Tax kicked in," Mr Khan told NDTV, sitting in his workshop.
"Whenever we took our goods to Moradabad, they would ask us for bills, GST number. We are illiterate. We don't have GST numbers. We want the Congress or the alliance. The BJP needs to go," he added.
But out on the streets, there is considerable support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rahul Saini, a young resident, said, "Unemployment is a perpetual issue. No matter which party is in power. We will give another chance to Modi-ji. When we gave the others 50 years, we can give him 10 years also".
"Jobs are definitely an issue here," Jaya Prada told NDTV. "Zari-Zardozi is a traditional work here and I plan to restore those jobs. Apart from that, I am also focusing on youngsters. There is a nursing college and a BEd college that I started here and those are producing good professionals," she said.
Rampur had elected Jayaprada in 2009 and 2004. Her adversary Azam Khan, one of the biggest Muslim faces in the state, is a nine-time legislator from the Rampur assembly constituency.
In 2014, the SP, BSP and the Congress had fielded Muslim candidates, leading to a division of votes. Only the BJP fielded a Hindu candidate - Nepal Singh who ended up winning with 37% of the voteshare.
This time, the Congress is likely to spoil the BJP's game. The party has fielded a Hindu, Sanjay Kapoor -- a two time legislator from Bilaspur, an assembly seat under Rampur --, to cut into BJP's votebank.
"The people of Rampur are tired of the brutalities and injustice of Azam Khan from 2012-2017," Sanjay Kapoor told NDTV. "Jaya Prada was a two-term MP, but she also left this seat in 2014 to contest elsewhere. The public wants somebody who stays among them and they know Sanjay is the one."
Azam Khan remained unavailable for comments. The lawmaker was the one who, 15 years ago, brought Jaya Prada to Rampur and helped her win. But their relations turned sour in 2009 when she openly supported his political rival Amar Singh.
There have been allegations that between his hate speeches on Jaya Prada, Azam Khan had circulated obscene photos of her and issued threats. This time, the Election Commission has banned Azam Khan from campaigning for 3 days due to his derogatory remarks against the actor-politician.
Elections will be held in Rampur in the third phase on 23rd April.
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