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Fall of Azam Khan: introducing Rampur poll model after bulldozer governance model?

By Ashok Sharma* 
There may be other reasons too for the low turnout in Rampur. But, the national media has overlooked the daylight murder of democracy. I visited some areas of Rampur to talk to common people who are not in active politics. These were predominantly Muslim, Hindu and mixed areas. I was accompanied by local friends who are non-political. We visited our interlocutors without telling the purpose of our visit. The elections were discussed only casually among other issues so that we could elicit authentic views.
Some of the highlights of our discussions were as follows:
1. The officials of a particular community were kept out of polling parties as far as possible.
2. Flag marches were held in predominantly Muslim areas by armed police several times before the polling day. These flag marches continued for 3 days.
3. On all road intersections, big police contingents of up to 100-150 personnel were deployed to intimidate voters as if a curfew was imposed. There were thousands of policemen brought from the neighboring districts and Rampur had become a police cantonment.
4. The police had started surrounding all Muslim areas since early morning so that they do not come out to vote.
5. Barricades were put up before the polling stations and intensive checking of the voters was being done by police personnel. They were being sent back on flimsy grounds. No ID other than the voter ID card was permitted. In fact, there is a list of 10 photo IDs permitted for identification including Aadhaar Card. However, Police refused to accept Aadhaar cards also. In voter IDs, any spelling mistake or missing a middle or last name was not permitted. A lady said that her name in the voter list was written as Shabnem but in voter ID card it was mentioned as Shabnam. In Hindi it was written in the same spelling (शबनम) in both documents. Still, she was not permitted to go towards the polling station. Most of these barricades were located about 150-200 meters before the polling stations and there was no other way to reach the polling stations so that these voters could be heard by polling officials. Such checking was completely illegal as this is the duty of the polling staff and not the police.
6. Agents and representatives of political parties and BLOs were not permitted to sit outside the polling stations who could assist the voters in locating their names and polling booth no. etc. Voters having no voter slip were turned away and there was nobody to distribute such slips. A common voter could not generate a voter slip without access to the voter list.
7. Burqa-clad women were not permitted for lack of identification as there were no women constables on the barricades.
8. Those who argued or resisted the undue interference of police were beaten up. Women were also beaten up in many places. When women police personnel arrived on the barricades to check women, they did not help but only resorted to the beating up of resisting women voters.
On the poll day, police started surrounding all Muslim areas since early morning so that they do not come out to vote
9. In some polling booths the vote percentage was between 2 to 5 percent which is unheard of in this region. Out of fear, Muslims remained confined to their homes and the polling booths in Muslim-dominated areas remained deserted. There were at least 45 booths where less than 100 votes were cast.
10. The polling virtually stopped at 1 PM in Muslim areas as people stopped coming out to avoid confrontation.
11. In contrast, in Hindu dominated areas the polling was normal and the BJP agents were escorting the voters up to the booths as usual. There were no barricades. Even the Muslim voters in these areas were able to cast their votes. In mixed population areas too, Muslims could go and cast their votes but the booths of agents were not permitted.
12. The percentage of Muslim voters in this constituency is 65%. However, the BJP candidate received 62% votes whereas the SP candidate had only 32%. By 5 PM, the voting percentage was less than 32% whereas the final tally was shown as 33%. This is a record low percentage as this constituency had seen 65-70% polling historically.
13. Middle class Hindus denied any incident of intimidation of Muslim voters. They claimed that Muslims were joining and supporting BJP as they were the main victims of Azam Khan’s terror.
14. The Dalits and poor OBC Hindus accepted that the Muslims and known SP voters were intimidated and stopped from reaching the polling stations.
Ashok Sharma
One may be against the high-handedness of Azam Khan. He may have indulged in land-grabbing to set up his University. But, there are many court cases against him for doing so and the law must be allowed to take its course. He should be fought ideologically. One Assembly seat was not going to make any difference to the thumping majority of Yogi Adityanath in UP. However, the idea was to test a model.
After the “Bulldozer Model” of governance, the “Rampur Model” of elections will be replicated in many parts of India. The TV channels have already declared that this model will become a new normal. (I saw a program on ABP news which eulogized this model). A large section of the population could be disenfranchised by force.
For more on the issue, click here to read what Dalit thinker Kanwal Bharti, who lives in Rampur, has to say.
---
*Former Indian Foreign Service officer, 1981 batch, who has been ambassador in Surinam, Kazakhstan and Finland; member, Constitutional Conduct Group, consisting of former civil servants; lives in UP

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