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Congress questions BSP-SP rally venue

The BSP and the SP, along with their alliance partner Rashtriya Lok Dal, will hold the rally at Deoband town on April 7
Akhilesh Yadav
Akhilesh Yadav
PTI file picture

Our Special Correspondent   |   Lucknow   |   Published 15.03.19, 11:23 PM

The Congress has questioned the Bahujan Samaj Party-Samajwadi Party alliance’s decision to hold its first joint campaign rally in an Uttar Pradesh constituency where the Grand Old Party fancies its chances in the Lok Sabha polls, asking if the axis really wanted to defeat the BJP.

The BSP and the SP, along with their alliance partner Rashtriya Lok Dal, will hold the rally at Deoband town in Saharanpur district on April 7. The town is home to the famous Sunni seminary Darul Uloom Deoband.

The rally is expected to be attended by BSP chief Mayawati, SP president Akhilesh Yadav and RLD boss Ajit Singh.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when the Congress performed miserably in Uttar Pradesh, the party’s candidate for Saharanpur, Imran Masood, polled the most number of votes among all Congress nominees apart from Sonia and Rahul Gandhi — 4 lakh — and came second. The BJP won the seat, benefiting from a four-way split of votes.

What also makes Saharanpur crucial for the Congress is that Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad hails from there.

Chandrashekhar, who had earlier extended conditional support to the SP-BSP despite his testy ties with Mayawati, has now said he would “do anything” for “elder brother” Masood, after a meeting with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Masood, the state Congress vice-president, has been renominated from Saharanpur.

Other than Rae Bareli and Amethi, the Congress pocket boroughs from where Sonia and Rahul will enter the poll fray as usual, the party is confident of victory in Saharanpur.

“We believe it is the decision of Mayawati to hold the alliance’s first joint rally at Saharanpur because Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar is giving her nightmares…. The meeting between our party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Chandrashekhar has further unsettled the BSP chief because the Bhim Army leader has had a tremendous impact on Dalits. He has the potential of snatching from Mayawati her Dalit support base,” said a Congress leader who didn’t want to be identified.

The SP rejected the suggestion that the alliance was trying to queer the pitch for the Congress. Rajendra Chaudhary, SP spokesperson, said: “We found Navratri the most auspicious occasion to begin our joint campaign...”

Navratri will be celebrated from April 6 to 14.

Masood, the Congress candidate, is considered close to the Darul Uloom Deoband. Since Masood’s entry into the Congress in 2013, the party has become an important player in the region.

Chandrashekhar has been a fierce critic of the BJP. Police took him into custody on Tuesday after preventing him from taking out a procession to Delhi. Unable to take the stress because of the fallout an earlier 15-month stint in jail has had on his health, he was admitted to a private hospital in Meerut.

Priyanka met Chandrashekhar at the hospital earlier this week, following which the Dalit leader said: “I will do whatever Masood says.”

Masood has met Chandrashekhar several times since the Bhim Army leader’s release from jail in September 2018.

The first phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh will be held on April 11 in Saharanpur, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddha Nagar.

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