Rampur, Uttar Pradesh: It’s 1 o’clock in the afternoon, and the premises of Noor Mahal are abuzz. The palace serves as the office of 30-year-old Haider Ali Khan, son of Kazim Ali Khan, heir to the Noor Mahal and the grandson of the last Nawab of Rampur, Syed Raza Ali Khan.
In the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly election, Rampur’s erstwhile royal family has once again pitted itself against the might of Azam Khan, the “other” nawab of Rampur. Kazim, also known as Naved Miyan, has fielded himself against Azam from the constituency, while his son Haider, also known as Hamza Miyan, is standing against Azam’s son Abdullah from the Suar seat.
Azam Khan, Rampur’s current Lok Sabha MP, is a forbidding candidate for anyone contesting against him. Considered as the tallest leader of Muslims in UP politics, he has won from Rampur nine times as an MLA, and was once known as the Man Friday of Samajwadi Party (SP) patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav. He was also one of the most powerful ministers in the SP government between 2012 and 2017. But Azam Khan is also currently languishing in jail on more than 80 charges, ranging from land grab to goat theft.
Naved Miyan, meanwhile, is a five-time MLA, and has been a legislator from Suar since 2002. He has contested on tickets of all parties except the BJP — BSP, SP and Congress. In 2012, he contested on a Congress ticket, while in 2017, he rode an elephant (BSP’s symbol), so to speak. This time he is back with the Congress, while Hamza Miyan is contesting on BJP ally Apna Dal’s ticket, probably to garner some Hindu votes in his constituency.
Both Rampur and Suar are pitched for a high-profile political battle. Voting is set to take place on 14 February, and the people of the region are holding their breaths in anticipation.
Tale of two campaigns
At Noor Mahal, everyone is waiting for Naved Miyan, who is set to visit a nearby degree college for campaigning. But first, he has to settle a small matter with his legal counsel, Mazhar Miyan.
As soon as Mazhar Miyan arrives, Naved Miyan asks him whether he has filed the objections with the Circle Officer. Naved Miyan explains that the officer was presented with documents to reject the nomination of Abdullah. “Even if he wins the election, we will challenge it in court just like last time,” he says.
Last time was 2017, and Naved Miyan had lost to Abdullah from Suar but outfoxed him in a legal battle. Abdullah’s assembly membership was annulled by court in 2019 after Naved Miyan filed a suit against him for using false documents in his nomination papers. Abdullah had to cool his heels behind bars for two years on charges of forgery. He has just come out of jail in January.
At the degree college, Naved Miyan begins his speech without any commotion and “zindabad” (long live) slogans. He attacks the Azam Khan family with royal elegance. “This fight is against those who have built palaces and universities by grabbing the land of the poor and who have become synonymous with terror. But we need to maintain our communal harmony, do not fall prey to anyone’s influence,” he tells the crowd.
After speaking for 10-15 minutes, he leaves for his public outreach programmes. The crowd also behaves with the same kind of royal decency and departs without raising slogans.
Just two kilometers away from Noor Mahal is the Topkhana Gate, where SP’s office is located. There are 200-300 people here. Abdullah, fresh out of jail, is the star speaker for the party in the absence of his father, and is campaigning door-to-door in some areas. In the evening, he addresses a small meeting.
The atmosphere here is thick with slogans praising Azam Khan. As soon as Abdullah takes over the microphone, he reminds the crowd that “this poll fight is between the awam (common people) and the nawab (royal family)”. He also talks about the alleged atrocities committed by the Yogi Adityanath government in UP, and how his family has been targeted in vengeance.
Unlike Naved Miyan’s street meeting held earlier in the day, Abdullah’s meeting is full of public indignation and, from the sloganeering, it seems there is no confusion among Muslim voters about the choice of Azam Khan for Rampur.
The legendary rivalry
The enmity between the ‘royals’ and the Azam Khan family dates back to several decades. Rampur state was founded by Nawab Ali Mohammad Khan and Syed Raza Ali Khan was its last king or nawab. In 1949, he merged his principality in the Union of India. After his demise in 1966, his son Zulfiqar Ali or Mickey Miyan became heir to the ‘royal’ family.
Mickey Miyan won consecutive elections for the Congress in 1967, 1971, 1980, 1984 and 1989. After his death, his widow Nurbano also won the Lok Sabha elections from here twice, in 1996 and 1999.
Nafees Siddiqui, who has written several books on the nawabs of Rohilkhand, the area to which Rampur belongs, says: “Azam’s father Mumtaz Khan was a decent man. He used to carry a typing machine on a bicycle. Azam was ambitious and, to carve out his own place in politics, he felt it was necessary to challenge the royal family. So he gave it the form of a battle between nawab vs awam (king vs people).”
“During the 1970s and 1980s, the reins of Rampur’s politics were firmly in the hands of Noor Mahal. After the Emergency, Azam contested the assembly elections on a Janata Party ticket but lost to Congress’ Shannu Miyan. After this, he started to fight for the interests of the beedi-rollers and textile workers. The textile mill, Raza Textile, was started by Nawab Raza Ali Khan. Azam began to stoke a fire there,” Siddiqui adds.
In 1980, Azam Khan got elected to the UP assembly and Mickey Miyan emerged victorious in the Lok Sabha polls. However, Azam, who had won with the support of Mickey Miyan, started to wage a war against the royal family in the next decade.
After the Babri Masjid demolition and the subsequent Meerut riots, Azam transformed his image from a labour leader to that of a Muslim leader and became the new “nawab of Rampur” once he became a minister in the Mulayam cabinet.
Tariq Raza, who works at Raza Library, says: “The royal family had set up 18 factories here and Rampur was the biggest business centre after Kanpur. Mickey Miyan got a government press installed. When Azam Khan became minister of urban development, he improved roads and the power situation in the city.”
According to Naved Miyan, Azam Khan did everything he could to erase the history of the royal family from Rampur — from removing nameplates at intersections to demolishing gates of the city.
“What will the public achieve by voting for Azam Khan? Rampur’s worst period was from 2012 to 2017 when Azam Khan was like a de-facto chief minister. He started to build his own Rampur. Lands of the poor were usurped. But now Azam Khan is in jail. How will a man who cannot protect himself be able to protect the common people?” Naved Miyan asks.
His son Hamza Miyan says: “Our family constructed 35 schools, colleges and universities, and the government is still running them. Azam Khan built just one (Mohammad Ali Jauhar) University and appointed his family members on all important posts. He built a bridge at Rs 500 crore, on which unemployed youth are making TikTok videos. What sort of development are they talking about?”
But Abdullah dismisses the charges, alleging that the nawabs sided with the British during the revolt of 1857. “They are the people who sided with the British in 1857 to kill their own armymen who had revolted. They got a seat with Queen Victoria. They are the people who reserved roads for themselves. They hesitate to shake hands with the common people. They sanitise their hands if they touch a common man. They are the people who live in luxury, they should not show concern about the common people,” he alleges.
Azam Khan is the target of not just the Rampur royal family, but also the BJP, whose leaders mention him in every election speech.
Asked about CM Yogi Adityanath’s statement that this UP election is of “80 per cent versus 20 per cent”, Abdullah says: “This is a fight of 100 per cent versus government. We can’t achieve anything with hate. Covid did not differentiate between the rich and poor, or Hindu and Muslim.”
Abdullah also downplays the charges against his father. “Azam Khan has been subjected to grievous atrocities. But we are culprits of very low status. Cases have been lodged against us for stealing goats and buffaloes, for stealing liquor bottles and soil. They should have filed better cases,” he says.
Key in the incarceration of Azam Khan was Akash Saxena, the son of a former BJP minister, who filed the maximum forgery cases against the SP leader once the BJP rose to power in UP. “We did not fabricate those cases. They have committed numerous crimes. This is a fight for truth and victory will be ours only,” says Akash, who has been fielded from Rampur by the BJP.
But Abdullah counters: “This election is not about whether Azam Khan is a thief, but about why you have not filled the second cylinder of Ujjwala scheme, and why crores of jobs were not generated over the years which you had promised in 2014.”
“The BJP has nothing to show. These diversionary tactics will not work in the long run. Farmers want to know when their income will double. People want to talk about inflation, 700 farmers dying on Delhi’s borders, Lakhimpur Kheri and the shortage of oxygen,” he adds.
Rampur shopkeeper Azim Khan believes that Azam Khan will benefit from this war of words. “People have sympathy for Azam Khan due to their belief that he has been unduly harassed. Raja saheb (the nawab) is also a good person, but he does not stay here for long. At least our grievances are heard at Azam Khan’s place. However, this time the BJP is also in the race and the real fight is between Azam and the BJP,” he says.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)