As UP Polls Approach Azamgarh, Area’s Terror Tag Gets Stickier with Ahmedabad Blasts Case Sentencing

Azamgarh, the constituency of MP Akhilesh Yadav, the birthplace of poet Kaifi Azmi, is at the center of the electoral discourse of Uttar Pradesh yet again. The reason? Its other identity of being the home ground of Indian Mujahideen terrorists.

Mohammad Saif, one of the terrorists sentenced to death recently in the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts case, belongs to Azamgarh’s Sanjarpur village. His father Shehbaz Ahmed’s photograph with Akhilesh Yadav has been used by the Bharatiya Janata Party to allege that the Samajwadi Party supports terrorists.

At Sanjarpur village, the residents label this polarization politics. “It all started after dates of elections in eastern UP were announced. The decision in the Ahmedabad blasts case was reserved in September last year. The date kept getting pushed and then why did the order come just ahead of elections here?” Tariq Shafiq, a resident of the village, said to News18.

The region will see voting in the seventh and final phase of the ongoing Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, on March 7. The results will be declared on March 10.

Addressing a public meeting in Hardoi, chief minister Yogi Adityanath recently said, “A Gujarat court has convicted 38 people in the Ahmedabad blasts case. Of these, eight have a connection with Azamgarh. Of these eight convicts, one’s father is an active Samajwadi Party worker. SP chief should give clarification and apologise before the public.”

Mohammed Saif’s relatives did not venture out to speak to News18. Locals said the family had a tiff with the media after the 2008 Batla House Encounter in Delhi between police and Indian Mujahideen terrorists, and have been wary since then. “A reporter entered their house and said that this was a home of terrorists. A fight broke out, and the reporter later filed a case,” a resident said.

Saif’s six siblings are self-employed. His elder brother is in the building construction material business. Saif’s father Shehbaz Ahmed has had surgery recently and that has kept the family in and out, neighbors told News18. Shehbaz himself confirmed on a phone call that he was in Bombay for heart surgery. When asked about his association with the Samajwadi Party and the formation made by the BJP he said, “BJP people should see themselves. They are framing anyone now in the name of terrorism. They framed Azam Khan also, everyone knows it’s fake. They have such people in their party also. Who is Pragya Thakur? She is still an accused.”

“I was with the SP for a long time, but now I am not with them,” he added.

Shehbaz also said that the family will appeal against the Ahmedabad blasts judgment in the high court.

Masih uddin Sanjari, a resident of Sanjarpur, is helping Shehbaz file the appeal. “We will appeal in the high court, this is from the civil court. How can we accept this verdict?” said Sanjari, adding that it pains him to see Azamgarh being labeled a “terror nursery”. “They only highlight this case. There was a blast in Ajmer dargah too, but they don’t talk about that, because this is an election issue,” he said.

Azamgarh has 10 assembly seats. In 2017, five of these went to the SP, four to the BSP and one to the BJP. The 2022 fight appears to be a straight one between the BJP and SP.

Mahant Rajesh of the Bade Ganesh Mandir rues that Azamgarh has become synonymous with terror. “This is the only district with 17 rivers, a land where sages meditate. Lord Ram parted with his people here from the banks of the Tamsa river to go for exile in the forest. Now no one remembers that before becoming Azamgarh, this was Aryamgarh,” he said.

A sweet shop owner in Azamgarh city’s Das market says demonetisation, GST and Covid lockdown have really made their existence hand to mouth but he would still vote for the BJP. “We have a dilemma. Yes, business is bad, but how do we not vote for the party that gave us Ram Mandir? My father, grandmother who was lathi-charged in 1990, no matter how much money you give them, or take away, we will vote only for the BJP,” said the shopkeeper candidly on condition of anonymity.

Businessman Gokul Das Agarwal was more forthcoming. “Akhilesh ji is our MP, but he never came to meet us even once in so many years…what’s the point?” he said.

Raljit Krantikari, a job aspirant, countered this. “Not just Azamgarh, what has UP got in the past five years? There are no jobs, exam question papers are getting leaked. There are incidents like the Hathras case…where’s law and order?” he asked.

Nafees Ahmad, SP candidate and MLA from Gopalpur in Azamgarh, hopes the elections are fought on these bread-and-butter issues and not terror. “What is the BJP going to ask? The people want answers on price rise, unemployment,” he said.

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