A 10,000-strong crowd assembled in Allahabad to greet Atiq Ahmad when he was released on bail on Tuesday. The 73 cases against him include murder and attempt to murder, the most sensational being the killing of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate Raju Pal in 2004, in which Atiq and his brother Ashraf are accused.
Ashraf jumped bail and was declared an absconder in 2007. After having spent four years in jail, Atiq had been petitioning for bail for several months. Even in a seat of justice as exalted as the Allahabad high court, 10 judges refused to hear Atiq’s bail petition.
The 11th, however, granted him bail. He had already filed his papers as a candidate from Apna Dal, a small party. This was because the Samajwadi Party (SP) had expelled him and the BSP, for obvious reasons, refused to give him a ticket.
Raju Pal, a BSP candidate, had contested an assembly by-election in 2004 and defeated Atiq’s brother Ashraf, who then shot him dead. The by-election was then contested by Puja Pal, Raju’s widow. She won by a large margin. Now, she is contesting for the same seat against Atiq Ahmad. In her affidavit before the by-election, Puja Pal had listed her assets worth a few thousand rupees. Now, four-odd years later, she has property and assets worth around Rs 1 crore, And, she has managed to clear the high school examination.
Allahabad is a seat of great knowledge, wisdom and heroism. It was the Allahabad high court that, in 1975, ruled that Indira Gandhi had used unfair practices to win her election and debarred her from contesting any election for six years. Though the imposing high court building has breathtaking interiors, the security checks and the instructions for silence in court serve little purpose. A metal detector, with wires hanging loose, is symbolic of the situation.
Governance and justice are the rallying cries in this part of UP. The likes of Atiq Ahmad, people rising to power through the use of force, extortion and tacit collaboration with political parties, abound. “If the Congress really wanted to oppose him, surely they could have put up a strong candidate,” said Aziz Ahmad, a local journalist.
Though Rahul Gandhi launched his election campaign from nearby Phulpur, the only candidate he has actively campaigned for is Manju Saint, a Dalit recommended by Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar. The party’s organisation is not in good shape. When Gandhi launched his campaign, posters appeared saying, “Mata bimar, mantrimandal lachar; Rahulji, karo netritva sweekar” (Mother unwell, council of ministers is helpless; it is time Rahul took over the reins of governance). These were, however, pulled down by a local Congress group minutes after they were put up. The case of the SP is no better.
In 2007, the BSP had won 80 per cent seats in Allahabad and its surrounding areas. However, the Congress saw a considerable improvement in its voter base in the Lok Sabha elections in 2009. In the rural areas, the party’s loan waiver programmes gained support. This time, with potato and sugarcane growers in a crisis, it is Mayawati who is shouldering the cause of the rural destitute.
Allahabad and the surrounding regions represent a big challenge for the Congress and the BSP alike. When the region goes to polls on February 15, the outcome would be a turning point.