He was the Congress’s prominent minority face in west UP for more than a decade. Now, Imran Masood is likely to play the same role and more for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which he joined last week.
The Mayawati-led party has directed Masood, the former MLA from the erstwhile Muzaffarabad constituency in Saharanpur district, to be active in Uttarakhand and look to get Muslim votes there for it, said party insiders, pointing out how the former Congress leader was handed over an important task within four days of his switch from the Samajwadi Party (SP).
Immediately after he joined the BSP, Mayawati appointed Masood the BSP convener for western UP that has a significant Muslim population. In the Assembly elections earlier this year, the minority community voted mostly for the SP-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance, which bagged several seats in west UP.
Sources in the BSP said that during his first organisational meeting on Saturday, Masood initially sat on a chair in the back at the party’s headquarters in Lucknow. But before Mayawati entered the meeting hall, a party leader insisted Masood sit on the front row and he was offered a chair there. During the meeting, the BSP chief introduced Masood to other party functionaries and told them that he would work to help the party consolidate its position among Muslims.
Sources said Mayawati instructed the party’s divisional coordinators in west UP to ensure adequate arrangements at the meetings Masood will address to connect with the masses and that he be accorded due respect. Masood has been assigned areas in Moradabad, Saharanpur, Bareilly, and Meerut divisions. “Also, the coordinators have been told that Masood will speak at the end of the meetings and he should be given the maximum time (to speak),” said a BSP leader.
Party insiders said Mayawati had asked Masood to also travel to Uttarakhand, especially the districts of Dehradun, Haridwar, Udham Singh Nagar, and Nainital that have a significant Muslim population. Muslims in these areas have supported the Congress and the BSP in the past.
“Seeing the respect and responsibilities given to Masood in a short span of time, cadre leaders are discussing whether he will be the next Muslim face of the BSP in UP ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” a BSP leader said after the Saturday meeting.
The importance Mayawati has attached to Masood is noticeable because the BSP has Muslim leaders such as Munqad Ali, Naushad Ali, and Shamsuddin Rain who have been associated with the party for decades but do not have the acceptance the former MLA has in the minority community.
Munqad, a former MP, earlier served as the party’s UP president and at present, he is the coordinator for the Agra and Aligarh divisions. Shamsuddin is the coordinator for western UP and also the divisions of Azamgarh and Jhansi. Naushad Ali was the Officer on Special Duty to Mayawati when she was the chief minister and at present, he is the coordinator for the Kanpur division.
“In eastern UP, former MLA Shah Alam alias Guddu Jamali who lost the Azamgarh Lok Sabha bypoll in June is considered an important face in the region,” said a leader, adding that the BSP also had three Muslim Lok Sabha MPs — Kunwar Danish Ali (Amroha), Afzal Ansari (Ghazipur), and Fazlur Rehman (Saharanpur) — but none of them had been assigned any major organisational responsibilities.
BSP spokesperson Dharamvir Chaudhary said BSP gives due respect and representation to all religions, castes, and sections of society. “Following the line, the party has given respect and responsibilities to Imran Masood with the expectation that he will take forward the Bahujan Samaj and the BSP will get the votes of Muslims in future elections.”
According to a senior BSP functionary, Naseemuddin Siddiqui was the party’s most prominent Muslim face in UP before he joined the Congress in 2018. “Siddiqui held portfolios of more than a dozen departments as a cabinet minister in the BSP government. He was also in charge of the party organisation. He was the tallest Muslim face in the history of the BSP,” said the leader.
At present, Siddiqui is the Congress’s regional president for western UP. This will see Masood go up against the former BSP veteran as he tries to revive the party in the region.
In the Lok Sabha elections the following year, which the BSP contested in alliance with the SP, the Mayawati-led party won 10 seats, including four in west UP. Among the seats it bagged was Saharanpur, where Masood finished third on a Congress ticket behind Fazlur Rehman of the BSP and BJP candidate Raghav Lakhanpal.