It is a battle for Muslim votes in the high-profile assembly constituency of Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, fought essentially by two leading figures of the community -- one being an ageing Congress leader and the other a prominent Samajwadi Party minister.
The rivalry between Congress leader Begum Noor Bano, who hails from the family of the former nawab of Rampur and is backing party candidate Afroz Ali, and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mohammad Azam Khan is well known, with the two having been locked in fierce verbal duels on several occasions in the past.
Muslims, who constitute over 60 per cent of the total electorate of 2.53 lakh, hold the key in this constituency. But with barely a week left for polling in this constituency currently represented by Khan, no visible undercurrent in favour of any of the four major parties can be seen.
The contestants also include Bahujan Samaj Party's Musharrat Khan and Bharatiya Janata Party's Anil Kumar Vashishtha.
Khan hopes to get a large chunk of Muslim votes on the basis of developmental works carried out in the area after the Samajwadi Party assumed the reigns of the state in 2003.
"The development of Rampur town is there for everyone to see. The government has done a lot for the area in a short span of time," he claimed.
One of the main roads, which leads to the newly-established Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar Technical University and also Khan's residence bears testimony to his claim. Khan won the seat on five occasions though he lost to Ali in 1996.
In the last assembly polls, Khan won by a comfortable margin of 38,000 votes. Actress and Samajwadi Party leader Jayaprada represents this seat in the Lok Sabha. In the 2004 general election, Jayaprada had defeated Begum Noor Bano.
Though the Begum wields considerable influence among Muslims, she suffered defeat mainly due to the fierce campaign by Khan.
"The nawab of Rampur had sided with the Britishers during the freedomstruggle. They did not do anything for the area though the Begum represented the constituency on many occasions," Khan alleged to PTI.
NoorBano rubbished Khan's charges and said Muslims would 'throw their lot behind the Congress this time.' She, however, found it difficult to explain to people the defection of her son Nawab Kazim Ali Khan to the Samajwadi Party.
Kazimis contesting on a SP ticket from neighbouring Swar Tanda assembly constituency. He had won from Swar Tanda in the last assembly polls as a Congress candidate but later defected to the BSP and then to the SP in 2003.
Khan,who was instrumental in establishing the Jauhar University, his dream project, had been embroiled in controversy over his comments against Governor T V Rajeswar, who declined to accord his assent to the varsity bill after it was passed by the Vidhan Sabha.
The Congress had registered a vehement protest over a clause in the bill that provided for making Khan the university's pro-chancellorfor life. Ultimately the nature of the bill had to be changed and the university was set up in the private sector.
Khan had made it an issue in recent civic body polls here and went all out to brand the Congress as 'anti-Muslim.'What, however, could queer the pitch for Khan is the presence of two other Muslim candidates in the fray.
Moreover,both Khan and Ali belong to the Pathan community, which forms a majority among Muslims here. BSP's Musharrat Khan, also a Pathan, hopes to eat into the Muslim votes and garner the traditional Dalit votes of his party while BJP candidate Vashishtha is going all out to woo non-Muslim voters, hoping to reap dividends in case of a possible division in Muslim votes.
Forthe Congress, its Amethi parliamentarian Rahul Gandhi held a roadshow in the area recently. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is also scheduled to address an election meeting in the town. Jayaprada will also hit the campaign trail here, according to party sources.