In an election where young scions of political dynasty are trying to strike a new path, Ahmad is an uncomfortable reminder that much of politics in the state is still in the grip of money, muscle and caste strength.
Now that Atiq Khan is out on bail, he will swing this seat, says Diwakar Tripathi, a BJP office bearer in the district. There are at present 44 cases against Khan, ranging from murder to intimidating witnesses. Bahubalis are useful to netas even now. Earlier they may have done booth capturing, now they turn up at voters homes and ask them not to turn up for voting, says Tripathi. Kehtey hain ki hum samajh lenge ki hamein aapka samrathan prapt hai, (we will assume that you have voted for us), he adds.
Ahmad is a typical bahubali neta who grew in the 1990s and early 2000s along with Mukhtar Ansari and his ilk. Small-time criminals they entered politics with outfits like the Samjawadi Party, which, throughout this period, was looking to expand its base in eastern Uttar Pradesh, particularly in cities like Allahabad and Varanasi.
In 2012, they may appear a little out of step with Akhilesh Yadavs SP and Rahul Gandhis Congress, but then they still retain the power to wreck some equations. This is precisely the reason why it is rumoured that Atiq Ahmad is supportive of Congress minister Beni Prasad Verma.
When I first fought elections, people voted for me. I have been MLA five times already, and MP from Phulpur. I won that election with over 2,65,000 votes. It is a seat won by Jawaharlal Nehru in the first elections held after Independence, he says with pride.
Ahmad refused to apply for bail before elections were announced to avoid being harassed by the BSP-led state government.
He is now the star campaigner for the Apna Dal and Peace Party tieup, which is contesting 107 seats across the state and may upset equations in several seats. Ahmad and the late Kurmi leader Sonelal Patels daughter Anupriya Patel are expected to win. Patel is fighting from Rohaniya in Varanasi.
In a hung Assembly even a few seats could get them traction. So while the hawa in Uttar Pradesh could be of a change in political culture, Atiq Ahmad is an uncomfortable reminder that the world is not that much more different than it used to be.