May 24, 2016 4:23:52 am
Congress workers and leaders from Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Shamli districts of western UP Monday urged poll strategist Prashant Kishor to project former MLA Imran Masood as the party’s face in the region ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections. Masood had grabbed the headlines for allegedly threatening to “chop Narendra Modi into pieces” ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Masood, who was contesting from Saharanpur, was arrested and jailed and Congress had then distanced itself from his remarks.
The demand to make Masood party’s face in western UP was made in a meeting of the Congress’s Saharanpur and Jhansi divisions called by Kishor in Lucknow on Monday to discuss party’s strategy for 2017 Assembly elections. Sources said all the three districts under Saharanpur division unanimously supported the demand and also requested that party give him a strong backing to counter BJP.
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The demand comes three days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Saharanpur district to mark two years of his government.
In the meeting, the leaders cited how the Congress candidate, who had Masood’s backing, was able to win the bypolls to Deoband Assembly seat in February this year. They also cited the poor performance of the party in almost all the other Assembly byelections in the state in past few years.
“The outcome of Deoband is before us. The politics of western UP, especially Saharanpur, is different from rest of the state and thus it should be handled in a different manner. Against all odds, we were able to win the bypolls to Deoband,” Shashi Walia, district president of Saharanpur, told The Indian Express after the meeting.
“Without doubt Imran is a strong face for us in western UP and thus there was a unanimous request that party should give him a strong backing and project him as Congress’s face in the region. We have given our suggestions and now it is for the party to decide,” he added.
BJP’s Lakahnpal Raghav had defeated Masood in the 2104 Lok Sabha polls by 65,000 votes. Masiood had secured more than 4.10 lakh votes. Ahead of the polls, he was arrested for his speech where he had reportedly said that if Modi, then BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, tried to “convert UP into Gujarat” then he will “chop him into pieces”.
During a foot march organised by the party last year, Masood was seen next to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, inviting sharp reactions from BJP. Sources in the party said that Masood’s stature grew after the candidate supported by him won the Deoband seat.
“While we did not raise the issue during this meeting, we have demanded party high command to send him to Rajya Sabha to strengthen party’s representation from western UP there,” Walia added.
Meanwhile, the party leaders also urged Kishor to give opportunity to fresh candidates rather than banking on those, who have been contesting elections for past many years. “We have to create a balance. While senior leaders cannot be neglected and should be taken along, at the same time, for a party to revive and grow, we seriously need young and fresh faces as candidates and this is what we have suggested in the meeting today,” said a party leader, who was part of the meeting.
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