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Youth shayar fielded by Congress rings alarm for UP allies

Imran Pratapgarhi, a YouTube star whose Urdu couplets are a stinging attack on the BJP, has been fielded from Moradabad by the Congress

By J.P. Yadav in Moradabad
  • Published 23.04.19, 7:09 AM
  • Updated 23.04.19, 7:09 AM
  • 3 mins read
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Imran Pratapgarhi (@ImranPratapgarhiOfficial)

In the middle of an impassioned speech on a Friday night, Congress candidate Imran Pratapgarhi, a young shayar whose Urdu couplets have struck a chord among youths, broke down. “Main bahari nahi hoon (I am not an outsider),” the 30-year-old poet said, before he started sobbing, while addressing a rapturous crowd at the Jama Mosque ground in Moradabad town.

“Allah knows, I don’t want the tag of an MP. I want to raise my voice for you. I have come here with lots of hopes,” he added, after a long pause, his voice choking.

“Keep the honour of these tears. They are not fake,” he said. The crowd, most of them youths, held up their cell phone flash lights and chanted: “Hum tumhare saath hai (We are with you).”

Imran, a YouTube star whose Urdu couplets are a stinging attack on the BJP, has been fielded from Moradabad by the Congress. The town is also the sasural of Priyanka Gandhi.

On his campaign trail, Imran intersperses his political speeches with couplets and verses. He was already a rage among the youths before he entered the poll ring: Imran’s YouTube channel has over 8.43 lakh subscribers; all his videos have views in lakhs.

Imran’s presence has created ripples in Moradabad, a town famous for its over 3 lakh brass artisans, who are still struggling to recover from the effects of demonetisation.

But will his poetic wave sway enough voters? The poet says he is trying his best.

“I was living a very happy life. But here I am addressing rallies and meeting people. Past midnight I go to the doctor to take injections and drip, and again start in the morning. Why am I doing all this?... If I have put my life at stake, who’ll understand, if not you, Moradabadis, my own,” he said at the Friday night meeting.

The biggest roadblock in the poet’s path is the bahari (outsider) tag. Pratapgarhi, as his surname suggests, hails from Pratapgarh, some 500km from Moradabad in the eastern parts of the state. It was this “outsider” tag he tried to overcome as his eyes welled up. People here still remember how they were swayed by cricket star Mohammed Azharuddin in 2009, when he won on a Congress ticket, but he let them down by remaining indifferent.

Imran is locked in a triangular contest, in legendary poet Jigar Moradabadi’s city, with the BJP’s sitting MP Sarvesh Singh and the BSP-SP-RLD alliance candidate S.T. Hasan, a former mayor of the town and a popular surgeon.

Imran’s primary challenge is to assure the over 40 per cent minority voters in the constituency, that he, and not the alliance candidate was in a position to defeat the BJP.

Moradabad is among some seats like Saharanpur and Bijnor in western UP where the Congress has fielded a strong Muslim candidate, skewing the poll arithmetic.

Hasan would have had the edge had the Congress not fielded a popular poet like Imran. As Samajwadi Party candidate in 2014, Hasan had garnered over 3 lakh votes, but lost owing to a division among the Muslims.

Muslims and Jatavs account for over 50 per cent of the voters in Moradabad.

Imran Pratapgarhi’s roadshow on Sunday, the last day of campaigning.
Imran Pratapgarhi’s roadshow on Sunday, the last day of campaigning. Picture by JP Yadav

“A similar situation seems to have developed. The BJP could again emerge winner,” said Mohammed Khalid, a retired government servant. He felt Imran, with his powerful oratory, was swaying the youths and women and was set to secure a big chunk of votes that could make the BJP’s path easy.

The fiery poet, however, asserted he was here to win. “I have the support of people from all communities who have suffered due to the BJP’s policies in the last five years,” he said.

But even among Muslims, while the youths appeared taken by the charm of his fiery poetry, many elders sought to strike a note of caution. “Imran Pratapgarhi cannot win only with Muslim votes. He needs a cushion of Hindu voters,” said Salim Aslam.

“Here lies the advantage of our candidate,” said Aseef Atiq, a lawyer working for alliance candidate Hasan. “Doctor sahab has the solid support of Jatavs and Yadavs due to the alliance,” he added. Jatavs, the dominant caste among Dalits and known to be staunch supporters of BSP chief Mayawati, form nine per cent of the electorate.

“Do you think Muslims can afford to spoil their votes this time? Imran at best will get 50,000 to 70,000 votes and the rest will all go to Hasan sahab,” said Arbab Mehdi, a manager for the alliance candidate.

Arbab felt even the Congress is not serious about Pratapgarhi. “Had they been serious, Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka would have come here and done a roadshow,” said Arbab, who runs a shop on the outskirts of Moradabad town. “After all, Moradabad is Priyanka’s sasural. Isn’t there a message behind her not coming to Moradabad?” he added.

The family of Priyanka’s husband Robert Vadra hails from Moradabad.

Despite the absence of stars, the passion on display at Imran’s roadshow has given alliance candidate mangers the jitters. Across lanes and bylanes, men and women lined up on rooftops and in their balconies to cheer the poet.

“My support is for Imran bhai. In a Rahul Gandhi government, he’ll get justice for Muslim youths,” said Aftab Alam, a youth who is a fan of Imran, as he held up the Congress flag.

Will the poet win or help the BJP win? “That God will decide,” Alam said and rushed to follow the poet’s cavalcade.

  • Moradabad votes today

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