Moradabad: A five-cornered contest in the Muslim-predominant western Uttar Pradesh district of Moradabad has made it tough for pollsters to guess which way the wind blows.
Moradabad district, home to the famous brassware artisans whose dazzling craftsmanship is much sought after at home and abroad, was till recently also well known for its famous parliamentarian, former cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin of the Congress.
This time, the Congress denied a ticket to Azharuddin, much to his chagrin, though he had toured the district a few weeks before nomination and indicated he would be chosen.
The Congress has fielded Begum Noor Bano, who has relinquished her Rampur seat in favour of her son Kazim Ali Khan.
The party would be expecting Bano's historical legacy, being a scion of the local princely estate of Rampur, to hold sway on the voters.
"Azharuddin let down the people of Moradabad who voted overwhelmingly for him. He barely visited the constituency. He came around 10 times in the first two years, and did not care to visit after that," Mohd Javed, a local property dealer, told IANS.
"He never came for party meetings. Lakhs of people voted for him, but he let them down," said Shah Alam, another resident.
In February 2013, locals held a protest against the cricketer-turned-politician and even torched his effigy for his alleged neglect of the constituency. The Congress has now fielded Azharuddin from Tonk-Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Thakur Sarvesh Singh is the only Hindu among the prominent contestants. Sarvesh Singh, who belongs to the Thakurdwara-Bilari royal family and is a legislator of Thakurdwara, has been re-nominated for the seat. He had lost to Azharuddin by about 50,000 votes in 2009.
The ruling Samajwadi Party has fielded Syed Tufail Hasan, a former mayor of the city, while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate is Haji Yaqub Qureshi, a former minister in the Mayawati government.
The Peace Party, floated by well-known surgeon Mohammed Ayoob, has fielded Mohd Irfan.
Ayoob is a well-known surgeon from Gorakhpur and popular for his philanthropy and free medical treatment to the needy. His party has emerged as a major factor to be reckoned with, and had won six seats in the 2012 assembly elections.
The votes of Muslims, who comprise more than 18 percent of the state's 200 million population, would be a crucial factor in Moradabad.
"Muslims in western UP will vote for anyone who defeats Narendra Modi. It could be anyone from any party, an independent, anyone," Mohd Ghayyoor Ghazni, general secretary of the Turk Samaj Kalyan Samiti, told IANS.
"The Muslim votes will get divided among the four Muslim candidates, which will stand to benefit the BJP candidate Thakur Sarvesh Singh," said Ghazni, a member of the Janata Dal-United who had fought the assembly elections earlier.
"The Hindus and Muslims have equal number of votes in Moradabad. In fact, Muslims have around 10 percent more votes. And all their votes will go against Modi," he said.
Moradabad, with an estimated 1,600,000 voters, goes to the polls April 7.