Two old-time foes are up against each other in a tight contest in the Rampur Lok Sabha constituency of Uttar Pradesh. The last time differences between Azam Khan and Jaya Prada erupted in public in 2009, they were both in the Samajwadi Party. This time, in the run-up to the polls, Jaya Prada switched to the Bharatiya Janata Party to set up one of the most keenly watched contests of 2019.

Jaya Prada is a former actor who has represented Rampur as a Samajwadi Party MP twice, from 2004 to 2014. Ironically, Khan’s support was crucial for her when she first entered Parliament. But as their relationship soured, Khan was expelled from the Samajwadi Party for trying to disrupt Jaya Prada’s re-election campaign in 2009. Among other things, he was alleged to have circulated obscene pictures of her.

However, Khan was inducted back into the Samajwadi Party 17 months later. By that time, Jaya Prada had herself been expelled from the party for siding with renegade leader, Amar Singh. She contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as a candidate of the Rashtriya Lok Dal from Bijnaur, but lost to the BJP candidate. In March this year, Jaya Prada joined the BJP.

Azam Khan is a strongman in the region and has long influenced its politics. The Rampur Assembly segment has been his bastion since 1980: he has won nine terms in the state Assembly from there. This is the first time he is contesting the Lok Sabha elections.

Rampur voted on April 23 in the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections, with a 63.45% turnout, over four percentage points more than in 2014. The constituency is currently represented by the BJP’s Nepal Singh, who won the seat after defeating the Samajwadi Party’s candidate by over 23,000 votes.

The BJP has won Rampur two other times before – in 1991 and 1998. The Congress has not won the seat since 1999.

Rampur is sharply divided on caste and communal lines, and Congress’ Sanjay Kapoor could be a spoilsport by cutting into votes for both parties.

Personal attacks

The campaign was quite bitter. After Jaya Prada was picked to run against him, Khan reportedly declared at a rally that the colour of “the current Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate’s” underwear is khaki. The remark prompted the Election Commission to ban him from campaigning for 72 hours.

He earned himself one more reprimand a few days days later – a 48-hour ban for provocative remarks about the commission and for attempting to secure votes on religious lines. Khan’s son also made misogynistic remarks about Jaya Prada, comparing her to the courtesan Anarkali.

A case was filed against Jaya Prada too, after she warned Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati about Azam Khan’s “X-ray-like eyes”.

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