Lucknow: A few youngsters near Ghanta Ghar in Lucknow’s Hussainabad area are busy watching a video on YouTube wherein a man is passionately reciting verses in praise of Hazrat Ali. “Mere seene ki dhadkan hain, meri ankho ke tare hain…Ali jitne tumhare hain, Ali utne hamare hain (my heartbeat and apple of my eye, Ali is as much mine as he is yours),” the man can be heard saying in the video.
The man is Congress’s Lucknow candidate Acharya Pramod Krishnam, who enjoys massive popularity among members of the Shia community as he is an ardent follower of Hazrat Ali, son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad, the last Prophet of Islam. Ali is regarded as the rightful immediate successor to Muhammad as an Imam by Shia Muslims. There are several YouTube videos of Krishnam that have over a million views in which he can be seen praising Ali.
The youngsters watching the video, too, admire the fact that a “non-Muslim is praising Maula Ali”. One of the boys, Naved Abdi, tells News18, “He is probably the first non-Muslim I have seen who has such deep knowledge of Islam and Hazrat Ali.” Sitting next to him is Kashif who nods in affirmation. “We are happy that such people exist in our society who don’t mind speaking good about a religion that they don’t themselves follow,” Kashif says.
Krishnam, also the founder of Shri Kalki Foundation and Pitadhishwar of Kalkidham in Sambhal, continues to impress people in Old Lucknow with his detailed knowledge of Islam. He has been meeting people from Akbari gate, Chowk and Nakkhas areas of Old Lucknow has part of his Lok Sabha election campaigning.
It is said that the political mood of Uttar Pradesh capital is always set from Old Lucknow, which is considered as the heart of this Nawabi era city. The area houses a sizeable amount of Muslim population, mostly Shia Muslims. As per a rough estimate, there are around three lakh registered Shia voters in Lucknow. Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was elected five times from Lucknow, won this seat because of support from the Shia community.
Ever since his candidature from Lucknow, Congress candidate Krishnam has been focusing primarily on Old Lucknow and meeting religious leaders from Shia and Sunni community there.
Samajwadi Party’s Lucknow candidate Poonam Sinha, wife of actor Shatrughan Sinha, has also been focusing on Old Lucknow for one simple reason – its dense population, which directly translates to more voters in less area.
Krishnam, known for his deep knowledge of the Shia sect, has been to Najaf – a holy site in Iraq associated with Shias. He has also met four big Shia leaders, including Maulana Kalbe Jawwad, Maulana Saif Abbas, Maulana Yasoob Abbas and visited Islamic scholar Maulana Kalbe Sadiq in hospital.
Krishnam’s candidature was proposed by senior Congress leader Zishan Haider, who also hails from the Shia community. Speaking to News18, Haider said, “All the religious leaders Acharya Pramod ji has met till now are unhappy with the ‘Ali and Bajrangbali’ jibe by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. The entire community got upset when our beloved Maula Ali was dragged into petty politics by CM Yogi. The BJP will lose elections here just the way it lost state elections in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh last year.”
However, senior journalist Hussain Afsar, also from the Shia community, says, “The perception that the entire Shia community has always supported BJP is wrong. Yes, there have been a few who have supported the saffron party but not you cannot generalise the support.”
“Old Lucknow plays an important role in the selection of MP candidate, but much has changed with changing times. The current MP Rajnath Singh has not done anything significant for the community or for the general public of Lucknow. On the other hand, Acharya Krishnam who is an ardent follower of Hazrat Ali and Prophet Mohammad, speaks about equality, justice and love. Such things help establish a connection with people, Afsar said, pointing out that BJP leaders give controversial statements about Hazrat Ali.
"The recent controversy of ‘Ali and Bajrangali’ was uncalled for and Shias across the country reacted very sharply to it. The SP’s Poonam Sinha is considered a parachute candidate and hence does not stand a bright chance. In such a scenario, the Shias will largely be going bending Acharya Krishnam as he seems to be the most viable candidate,” he added.
Speaking to News18, Shia leader Maulana Saif Abbas said, “Not just Shia or Sunni community, even Hindus are unhappy about the dragging of Bajrangbali and Maula Ali into politics. The entire Muslim community stands miffed with the remarks made by our CM. Also, we expected our MP Rajnath Singh to give a statement for the Muslims in order to pacify them, but he didn’t meet the expectation of the community.”
Abbas said the community doesn’t have an issue with Rajnath Singh otherwise as “he is a good person”.
“But the party he represents has hurt the sentiments of the entire Muslim community. Acharya Krishnam hails from the community of saints and has been working towards spreading love and brotherhood. He has even participated in several programmes hosted by the Muslim community and spoken even better than Muslim speakers. He has a great following among the Muslims and non-Muslims both, and his videos on Youtube have been watched by millions of people. In such a scenario, it is obvious that the entire Muslim community will have a soft corner for him,” he said.
Earlier, after the announcement of his candidature from the Lucknow, Krishnam had tweeted, “Lucknow is the land of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb and Indian culture. I am grateful to the Congress leadership for giving me a chance to contest from Lucknow. With the blessings of God and your support, ‘love’ will win and ‘hate’ will be defeated.”
Namdeo Das Tyagi alias ‘Computer Baba’, a former minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, had also announced his support for Krishnam and stated that more than 50,000 saints will be coming to Lucknow for a grand road show in his support.
Not one to waste a good opportunity, Krishnam has also been meeting Sunni leaders such as Maulana Khalid Rasheed Faranagi Mahali. He visited the famous Cathedral Church in Lucknow on Easter and went to Hanuman Mandir in Hazratganj before filing his nomination. He has also been holding all-religion prayer meetings in Lucknow which goes to polls on May 6 in the fifth phase.