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                Those among us who have studied elections in India since independence are quite familiar with Booth Capturing.Till the mid 1970s it was very difficult for the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe and backward or marginalised sections of the voters to caste their votes.

 

Those among us who have studied elections in India since independence are quite familiar with Booth Capturing.Till the mid 1970s it was very difficult for the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe and backward or marginalised sections of the voters to caste their votes. Their votes particularly in some areas of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were cast by musclemen of powerful candidates mostly belonging to the ruling party.

In the 5 December 2022 by-election to the Muslim majority Rampur in Uttar Pradesh in which the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP ) candidate Akash Saxena won with 62 percent of the votes polled against 36 percent of the votes polled by Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate Mohamed Asim Raja we witnessed the birth of a new but very disturbing and dangerous phenomenon of CONSTITUANCY CAPTURING. The by election was held in Rampur because of the disqualification of Azam Khan , the sitting MLA , in a case of hate speech. Except in 1957 ,when an independent candidate Aslam Khan won , from 1952 to 1977 Indian National Congress candidates were elected from Rampur assembly constituency. The Congress candidates were either Nawabs or their relatives and used to win with huge margins with little effort.

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The scene changed in the 1980s with the entry of Azam Khan in the politics of Rampur.With a law degree from the Aligarh Muslim University Azam Khan organised the bidi and textile workers and the rickshaw pullers and took to the streets fighting for their rights. Azam Khan gradually ended the domination of the Nawab and his family in the politics of Rampur. Azam Khan contested the Rampur assembly election for the first time in 1980 on a Janata Party ( Secular ) ticket and won

. In 1985 he won as a Lok Dal candidate and again in 1989 as a Janata Dal candidate. In 1991 he won as a candidate of Samajwadi Janataa Party of Chandra Shekhar.In 1993 Azam Khan joined Samajwadi Party founded by Mulayam Singh Yadav and from then till 2022 he won six elections consecutively from Rampur. He always won with huge margins. Therefore, as one can make out it was important for the BJP to somehow show both Azam Khan and also the Muslim majority their place by defeating them in their stronghold.And when you can disenfranchise the majority voters belonging to targetted sections of the population , in this case the Muslims with ingenious use of state machinery and capture an entire constituency why go about the cumbersome process of capturing invidual polling booths which involves huge efforts and money.

The capturing of the constitituency was done by adopting very well designed plan of action. As a first step Muslim officials were as far as possible kept away from poll duties. For three days continuously before the polling day flag marches were held in the Muslim dominated areas of Rampur creating a fear psychosis among the Muslim voters. On all major intersections of the constituency large contingents of police , 100 to 150 policemen were posted on poliing day , creating a curfew like atmosphere. Thousands of police were deployed in Rampur on polling day and Rampur literally looked like a police contonment.

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From early morning on polling day the police had surrounded all major Muslim settlements in the Rampur Constituency preventing Muslims from going to the polling booths. Barricades were set up outside polling stations and policemen checked voter and other identity cards of voters. Only those with voters cards were allowed to cross barricades, though the election commission allows ten other documents including the Adhar card to enable one to vote. That only the election commission officials are authorised to check the voters identity was overlooked in Rampur and the police took over the function at the barricades and the Muslim voters who were stopped at the barricades could not even complain to the presiding officers at the polling booths. Even agents and representatives of the candidates were not allowed to go near the polling stations to assist voters .

Burqa clad women voters were not allowed to cross the barricades on the plea that there were no women constables to check their identity. Those who argued with the police , including some women voters were beaten up. An analysis of the voting figures of Muslim and Hindu dominated polling booths of Rampur is quite shocking. In the Muslim dominated urban areas the voting percentage was a mere 28 percent while in the Hindu dominated rural areas it was 46 percent. This when nearly 65 percent of voters in Rampur are Muslims. Rampur urban has 325 polling booths. In the 77 Hindu dominated polling booths with 68000 voters the turn out was 46 percent while in the 248 Muslim dominated polling booths the turn out was only 23 percent.

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The lowest polling registered in a Muslim dominated Booth was 4 percent while lowest in Hindu dominated booth was 27 percent. Similarly, the highest polling recorded in a Muslim dominated booth was 39 percent while the highest for a Hindu dominated booth was 74 percent. According to the SP candidate Aasim Raza the police did not allow voters in 252 booths. In four polling booths the number of polled were 25, 28, 34 and 40. The polling stopped in Muslim dominated areas by 1 pm because the Muslims to avoid a confrontation with police stayed home. The total polling percentage in the by election was only 33 percent in the constituency which traditionally recorded 67 to 70 percent polling.