Sambhal, a new district, is religiously significant for Hindus because of the belief in future appearance of Kalki Avatar in the city but it has been a Muslim-dominated constituency. Of 3,53,000 voters in Sambhal, around 2.25 lakh (67%) are Muslims. Thus, Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM is eying its best shot in the town. MIM’s Zia ur Rehman, grandson of famous former MP Dr Shafiqur Rehman Barq, is challenging incumbent Iqbal Mehmood of Samajwadi Party and Dr Arvind Gupta of Bharatiya Janata Party. BSP’s Rafatullah alias Neta Chidda is another candidate.

Zia, who was denied SP ticket from Bilari constituency in the district, chose to fight from Sambhal. “To teach Iqbal Mehmood a lesson for his treachery during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls,” claim his supporters. Iqbal had allegedly campaigned against then SP’s parliamentary candidate Dr Barq and had pleaded his supporters to vote for Bahujan Samaj Party’s Aqeerurrehman. Barq had lost by merely 5,014 votes to BJP’s Satyapal Singh Saini. “Plus Dr Barq’s legacy to safeguard Muslim interests in the city, in the state and in the country has to be preserved. Zia (meaning light from Arabic) will carry forward that,” said Munne Bhai, a Zia supporter.

Young Zia, an AMU alumnus, when prodded for his plans for his constituency says that more than rivalry with any candidate, he sees problems of people in the city as his priority. “See incumbent MLA was also a Minister for Food Supply and the worst affected are the ration shops in our city. Poor people can’t even procure provisioned ration in the area of the minister in-charge. People from his family as well as ‘his agents’ openly operate like a mafia and they also mediate in land and real estate dealings. And please visit the area and see what significant development you notice except for few roads renovation. There is no new school or medical facility. Even local government hospital functions sometimes without doctors,” said Zia.

When this correspondent reminded Zia that Sambhal didn’t develop during his grandfather’s long period in the state Assembly and Parliament either, he said that his grandfather’s biggest achievement was to earn district status for the city.

Zia has around 50,000-55,000 votes right now and  needs to gain 10,000 more to emerge as the winner. 

Locals say their liking for debutant Zia is increasing in the whole city. “Apart from our area, Zia’s support is increasing in localities like Sarai Tarin, Chaudhary Sarai, Kot, Teemar Das Sarai etc. He may even gain in rural areas. His support increased multifold after Asaduddin Owaisi’s rally in the town on 7 February,” said Nayab Hussain, a resident of Chowk in Deepa Sarai.

According to Saad Usmani, a local senior journalist, Zia has around 50,000-55,000  votes right now and needs to gain 10,000 more to emerge as the winner. “Any candidate going beyond 60,000 mark will finish first. Only Iqbal seems there right now. Interestingly, both these candidates solely depend on Muslim votes and if they are able to equally garner minority votes and some votes go to BSP’s Rafatullah, then BJP’s Dr Arvind Gupta may sail through. Though it is a distant possibility,” estimated Usmani.

Usmani also added that in case MIM’s Zia gains more than Iqbal and emerge as a clearly winning candidate, BJP’s voters may move towards SP’s Iqbal to prevent assertive Zia to reach UP Assembly.

But Rakesh Kumar, bureau chief of Hindi daily Amar Ujala, denies any such possibility. He says that it is triangular contest. “First come SP’s Iqbal, then Zia and then BJP’s Gupta. As election goes into the last phase, anyone may emerge as clear winner,” said Kumar.

In Sambhal, the election is fought more over identity. One type of Turks (Tatari), Zia’s bradari, is with Zia. Another type Tajik Turks are with Rafatullah, their clansman. Rests among Muslims are Nai, Dhobi, Kasai (Qureshis), Badai etc. “And they all seem going with Zia as it was evident during Asaduddin’s huge rally,” said Mohit, a government teacher.

Supporters of Iqbal Mehmood alleged that Barq’s family is personally marring the election of the minister of the area. “He has been a minister and one of the most renowned and stable politicians from Sambhal. He deserves another chance,” said a crowd in Mian Sarai, few yards away from the residence of Mehmood in the Qila, a Mughal period fort.

In Sambhal, according to an estimate, there are around 35,000-50,000 Scheduled Caste voters. Majority of them are Jatavs. They are likely to go with BSP and if BSP’s Rafatullah manages 20,000 Muslim votes, he may have his chances, observes Saad Usmani. “Today (Friday) Naseemuddin Siddiqi rallied in Sambhal and judging by the crowd there, I suspect that if Rafatullah works hard, he may join the race,” he said.

But judging by most of the locals interviewed by this correspondent and by hearing Rafatullah in one of his roadshows, it appeared that he had least effective communicative skills to win over voters.

Among all candidates, the most sophisticated and polite seems Dr Arvind Gupta, a well known practitioner in the city who is also known for his social welfare approach. “He is liked by Muslims, too. But I am not sure whether they will vote for him in hordes. Some thousand Muslim votes will certainly go to him. He deserves,” said Badar Jamal Sahyl, the manager at a local tuition centre.

Gupta told this correspondent that he doesn’t want to win as BJP’s Hindu candidate but as a good and responsible resident of his city. “I want that people must accept me positively. I know I am liked by Muslims and I have seen that over the years. My clientele is largely Muslims. Some of them will also vote for me but I don’t know whether that would be sufficient in this Muslim-dominated seat,” said Gupta.

He admitted that during his tour to all 90 villages in the constituency, he found that people were split around their identities. “It is obvious that if they are Hindus and are Saini or Valmikis, they will vote for BJP. If they are Jatavs, they will go with BSP and similar is the case with Muslims,” said Gupta.

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