The development card may well trump gender insensitivity in this constituency with many Muslim women saying SP leader Azam Khan’s underwear jibe against Jaya Prada is unwarranted, but they are likely to vote for him for the work he has done. Though most Muslim women feel the veteran Samajwadi Party leader should have avoided making the derogatory remark against the actor-politician, the BJP’s candidate against him in this Lok Sabha constituency, there are also those who defend him vehemently.
Several women said Khan, a nine-time MLA from the area, did not take any names and it was Jaya Prada who was making an issue out of it. Some also said their vote would go to him because he has made women’s safety and security a priority in Rampur and also because it was imperative to defeat the BJP.
Yasmeen Safdar, a hotel employee, said Khan has put Rampur on the map of important cities in India and worked really hard for the development of this western Uttar Pradesh town, which will vote on April 23 in the third round of the seven-phase polls.
She was critical of the “khaki underwear” remark and said Khan should be careful in his utterances and avoid making personal remarks. However, she also added, “Me and my family will vote for Azam Khan as he has worked really hard for the development of Rampur and it is because of him that women’s security is never an issue here.”
Fatima Pervez, another working woman in a private job, refused to believe that Khan had made such a remark against Jaya Prada and said he is a “very good man” even if if he had made an “odd wrong comment”.
"He has done so much of development in Rampur. Look at the number of roads he has built. Rampur is safe for girls because of Azam Khan. Surely, I will vote for him. There is no doubt about it," Pervez told PTI.
Without naming Jaya Prada, Khan told an election rally in Rampur recently, “...You got represented (by her) for 10 years. People of Rampur, people of Uttar Pradesh and people of India, it took you 17 years to understand her reality. But I could recognize it in 17 days that she wears khaki underwear.”
On Monday, Khan was slapped with a 72-hour poll campaign ban, an FIR and a National Commission for Women notice for the comment. The BJP mounted a sharp political attack comparing his “disgusting” comments to the disrobing of Draupadi in Mahabharata.
Notwithstanding the controversy, homemakers Sarah Mushir and Hira Arif defended Khan, saying he had not named anybody in his comments. "I will vote for Azam Khan. He is our leader," said Arif, and Mushir agreed.
Rani Khan, a hotel employee, said she doesn’t know the reality of the statement but is sure to vote for Khan. "My entire family and friends will vote for Khan as he has given so many facilities in Rampur and ensured women’s safety," she said.
Some, like Shagufa Ishrat, were less definitive. She said it was absolutely wrong of Khan to make personal comments and added that she would choose between Khan or Congress candidate Sanjay Kapoor. The number one priority, Ishrat declared, was defeating the BJP.
Muslims across the western UP have been weighing which candidate has the best chance to defeat the BJP so that they can vote en-masse for him or her.
Rampur is no different and there seems to be a feeling among the Muslims that Azam Khan could be a strong candidate to beat the BJP. This to some extent also explains why several Muslim women, though critical of Khan’s comment, are still looking to vote for him.
Saira Bi, a housewife, though not forthcoming on who she will vote for, indicated that Khan seems to be a strong candidate to emerge victorious. She, however, asserted that Khan’s personal remarks against a candidate were completely unacceptable. Jaya Prada believes that Khan’s comments could well be the SP’s undoing with women in the constituency now turning against it.
Khan, who is revered as the “face of Rampur” by his supporters, is facing criticism for his statement against Jaya Prada for sure, but it remains to be seen whether it will cost him electorally.