The two Lok Sabha by-elections in Uttar Pradesh in Rampur and Azamgarh is a litmus test for the Samajwadi Party that faces the challenge of holding on to its number two position in the state.
The two bypolls will also decide the future of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which is desperately trying to make a comeback on to the centre stage of UP politics.
Surprisingly, with just five days left for the two by-elections where polling will be held on June 23, neither Akhilesh Yadav nor Mayawati have yet campaigned for their candidates.
The Azamgarh seat was vacated by Akhilesh Yadav who chose to retain his Assembly seat in March this year.
His cousin and former MP Dharmendra Yadav is contesting the seat.
Akhilesh, on Thursday night, issued an appeal to the voters in both the constituencies to vote for his party.
The Samajwadi Party has the highest stakes in these by-elections since both, Azamgarh and Rampur were held by SP.
The Bahujan Samaj Party is playing a spoiler for SP in Azamgarh where it has fielded Guddu Jamali, a popular local leader who is likely to wean away Muslim votes.
Azamgarh has a sizeable Yadav and Muslim population and any dent in these vote banks could upset the apple cart for SP.
Samajwadi Party’s Maharashtra unit president Abu Asim Azmi is leading the party’s campaign in Muslim-dominated areas of the district.
Besides, the BJP has fielded Bhojpuri star Dinesh Lal Yadav Nirahua who had lost to Akhilesh in 2019 in Azamgarh.
The BJP campaign is supported by the presence of other Bhojpuri stars, including Manoj Tiwari, a BJP MP, and Akhilesh’s absence is now emerging as a major factor in the constituency.
The outcome of the election now depends on how well the BSP candidate performs. The more Muslim votes he pulls out will make it easier for the BJP to find a foothold in the SP bastion.
In Rampur, which is Mohd Azam Khan’s stronghold, the battle is between SP and BJP.
The SP candidate here is Asim Raja, a close confidant of Mohd Azam Khan.
Despite his poor health, Azam Khan is campaigning for Asim Raja and his emotional appeals seem to be having the desired impact among voters.
The BJP candidate is Ghanshyam Lodhi, also a former Azam Khan acolyte.
The BSP has not fielded any candidate in Rampur.
Interestingly, the Congress is not participating in the by-elections this time.