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Who is the Mughal-e-Azam of Prayagraj?

Jailed don helping BJP mobilise support for Rita Bahuguna Joshi in Allahabad

By Piyush Srivastava in Allahabad

  • Published 9.05.19, 7:33 AM
  • Updated 9.05.19, 7:33 AM
Actor and BJP Gurdaspur candidate Sunny Deol greets the crowd during a rally for Allahabad candidate (left) Rita Bahuguna Joshi on May 4.
Actor and BJP Gurdaspur candidate Sunny Deol greets the crowd during a rally for Allahabad candidate (left) Rita Bahuguna Joshi on May 4. (AP)

Nothing Mughal is kosher for the Yogi Adityanath regime in Uttar Pradesh, but election managers of the BJP in Allahabad — whose name has been changed to Prayagraj by the current dispensation — are banking on the city’s “Mughal-e-Azam”, a jailed don being called the “laadla” of the saffron-robed chief minister.

Murder accused Atique Ahmad, who is lodged in Naini prison on the outskirts of the city, is allegedly helping mobilise support for the BJP’s Rita Bahuguna Joshi.

“The much publicised Ardh Kumbh didn’t help the BJP in the Sangam city. Finally Atique Ahmad is trying to rescue it from jail. The mafia don’s supporters are calling him ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ of Allahabad or laadla (darling) of Adityanath because the BJP is treating him like a king of the city and depending on his Muslim support base to help Rita Bahuguna Joshi win,” said a disappointed Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) member, who, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted that he had not earlier thought that “Adityanath would be such a defunct politician that while he will ask the police to carry out encounter of the criminals, at the same time he will depend on Atique”.

Atique, 56, has mastered the art of doing anything and everything from jail. Facing the charge in the case of the murder of Raju Pal, a Bahujan Samaj Party MLA, and the charge of attempt to murder some staff members of a local college, Atique was shifted from Naini to Deoria prison in April 2017 to keep him away from his hometown.

Once at Deoria, the don allegedly got kidnapped a businessman of Lucknow in December 2018. The captive businessman was taken inside Deoria jail where Atique allegedly forced him to sign on some papers and transfer his properties to an aide of the don. An angry Adityanath ordered the jail department to shift Atique to Bareilly prison. But the circle was complete after the man with more than 100 serious cases, including murder and kidnapping, against him was ordered back to his Naini central jail in his home district in April.

The Sangh member said Atique was brought back to help in the campaigning.

“Our situation is pathetic. We didn’t want to manage the second election of Murli Manohar Joshi from here in 1998 because he used to insult us, but Nagpur forced us to keep helping him. We did our job in 1999 and 2004 also but heaved a sigh of relief when he lost (2004). The situation is similar this time as our conditioning doesn’t allow us to coordinate with the jailed mafia don but we are doing it mechanically,” said the Sangh member.

Nagpur, 900km south of Allahabad, has the headquarters of the RSS. There are a large number of Sangh workers camping in the Sangam city to manage the election of the BJP’s Rita Joshi, the party-hopper daughter of former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna (1973-75), whom his rivals used to call “Natwarlal” — after the legendary Bihar conman — for his frequent change in political affiliations. Bahuguna Senior was himself elected to the Lok Sabha from Allahabad in 1971, but his most famous battle in the constituency was fought in 1984 when he, as a Lok Dal candidate, took on superstar Amitabh Bachchan of the Congress. The actor won a thumping victory.

Source said Atique’s campaigners and his wife Shaista Parveen are meeting Muslim voters in old Allahabad area and asking them to support

Rita — harping on her “secular credentials”. Besides, Atique has at his command over 500 musclemen, who are all aggressively campaigning for the BJP.

Rajesh Kumar Shukla, a resident of Allahabad, said: “The way Atique was shifted from Bareilly to Naini jail speaks volumes about the changed equation of the BJP and Adityanath with the mafia.

“Adityanath’s leadership would be questioned if the BJP nominees lost their seats in UP. Obviously he would do everything to save his chair,” added Shukla.

Rita, who is the women and family welfare minister in the Yogi Adityanath government, has been with the Samajwadi Party and the Congress in past. Being a Brahmin from Uttarakhand, she is less favoured by her caste people compared to Yogesh Shukla, a local Brahmin who has been fielded by the Congress, and this was giving her and some other BJP leaders sleepless nights before they realised that Atique could help them out. The state government quickly shifted him from Bareilly to Naini jail last month.

“But don’t be surprised if Rajendra Singh Patel, the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance candidate, wins in the fight between the two Brahmins,” said Sneh Madhur, a political observer of Allahabad.

“The other disadvantage with the BJP is that many of its leaders are keeping themselves at bay from campaigning because Rita outsmarted them in the race for the election ticket,” added Madhur.

Atique is himself contesting the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi, 125km east of Allahabad, as an Independent candidate. Observers believe that it is part of the BJP’s plan to divide the Muslim votes to help Prime Minister Narendra Modi maintain his 2014 victory margin of 3.7 lakh votes from Varanasi.

Shukla, the Congress nominee, is a confidant of Murli Manohar and had contested the Lok Sabha election from Allahabad as a BJP nominee in 2009. Murli Manohar was elected MP from Allahabad in 1996, 1998 and 1999, from Varanasi in 2009 and from Kanpur in 2014. Dumped by the BJP this time and sent to the Margdarshak Mandal, Murli Manohar is jobless and is allegedly asking his supporters to vote for the Congress candidate.

Some BJP men alleged that even Sidharth Nath Singh and Nand Gopal Nandi, the state’s health and civil aviation ministers respectively, are showing disinterest in Rita.

“Singh had thought he would contest the Lok Sabha election and shift to national politics. Nandi wanted a ticket for his wife, Allahabad mayor Abhilasha Gupta. They are two new power centres in Allahabad who want Rita to lose this election. We have yet to know whether they are helping Shukla or Patel,” said a BJP leader, who spoke under cover of anonymity.

Allahabad votes on May 12