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Will Mukhtar Ansari play a spoiler for Akhilesh Yadav in UP elections?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 22-02-2017 Nikita Doval

New Delhi: It’s not common to come across a character as intriguing as Mukhtar Ansari. The Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) candidate from Mau Sadar assembly in the ongoing Uttar Pradesh election has won from this seat a record four times, since 1996, twice as an independent, once on a BSP ticket and once from his own party, Quami Ekta Dal.

Ansari is one of UP’s infamous bahubali (strongman) politicians who has been charged with just about everything from kidnapping to murder cases, including that of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA, yet his sway over his constituency in Purvanchal UP (Eastern UP) is unparalleled.

He is the same man who came within a whisker of defeating senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi in Varanasi in the 2009 general election and was all set to go against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in 2014 from the same city but withdrew his candidature at the last minute.

Ansari is also the man whose party’s merger with Samajwadi Party led to the Yadav family feud to spill in the open. In fact, UP CM Akhilesh Yadav had been unequivocal in his denunciation of the merger, saying, “Mukhtar Ansari will not be welcome in the party. We don’t want such people in the party.”

Ansari has now been in jail since 2005 on the charge of murdering BJP MLA Krishnanad Rai, though he has pleaded not guilty. Ansari’s gang is accused of killing a local contractor in 2009. Apart from this, he has also been accused of inciting communal violence.

Also read: UP elections: Phoolan Devi’s village key to MBC vote bank

Ansari reportedly began his career on the wrong side of the law as a member of a group patronized by a certain Makhanu Singh. Ansari eventually had to battle Brajesh Singh, a member of a rival group, to battle for control over Ghazipur’s contract work industry which consists of coal mining and scrap disposal, among other things.

Such was their enmity that in 2001 Brajesh Singh was believed to have ordered a hit job on Ansari. A fierce gun battle ensued in which three of Ansari’s men were killed and Brajesh Singh was critically injured. Ansari escaped unscathed. Krishnanand Rai entered the picture in 2002 when he contested and won the Mohammadabad assembly seat. While Mukhtar’s brother Afzal Ansari was his opponent, he was also seen as a man of Brajesh Singh.

On 29 November 2005, Rai was gunned down by men on bikes and in a car. Rai wasn’t just an MLA but also an important member of BJP’s eastern UP team. His killing in broad daylight led now home minister Rajnath Singh to sit on a dharna in Varanasi before the district magistrate’s office demanding a CBI investigation into the killing. Then BJP president L.K. Advani too demanded justice.

Ansari has been in and out of jail on this charge since then. He is currently lodged in Lucknow Central Jail but was out on parole till 4 March to campaign. The Election Commission moved a plea seeking cancellation of the parole on the grounds that Ansari may influence witnesses in the Rai murder case. Ansari’s counsel, advocate Kapil Sibal, has termed the EC’s claim as “baseless”.

Several analysts have tried to fathom the reason behind Ansari’s popularity and electoral appeal in Mau. Ansari is seen as a self-styled Robin Hood who helps people across caste and community lines. Clearly, his pull in the region is such that in spite of his criminal track record, parties want him in their corner. In fact, when it comes to the Ansaris, the BSP seems to have a revolving door policy. This is the third time that they are joining the party. They had last joined in 2009, only to be removed in 2010 for their “involvement in criminal activities”.

Also read: UP polls: Will Gulabi Gang’s Sampat Pal be third-time lucky?

Announcing the merger of his party with BSP this time, Mayawati termed Ansari a victim of political vendetta. Apart from giving a ticket to him, the party has also given a ticket to Ansari’s son, Abbas, a national-level gold medalist shooter. He will be contesting from Ghosi. The son, of course, has no criminal charges against him.

Mayawati’s decision to accept the Ansaris has been seen as an attempt to woo the minority community in the state. In Mau, Ansari will be up against the SP’s Altaf Ansari. Interestingly, the BJP has not fielded any candidate against Mukhtar.

Milan Vaishnav, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, recently authored a book, When Crime Pays, which maps the crime and politics nexus in India. In an interview with Reuters, Vaishnav explained that governance has not been able to keep up with the rapid economic and social changes that have taken place in the country. Where the government fails, be it in delivering justice or providing services, people turn to local strongmen and vote for them. “…they are able to use their criminality and a sign of their credibility to do whatever it takes… to protect the status of the communities, they claim to represent. So they have metaphorical ‘currency’ with ordinary constituents,” Vaishnav was quoted as saying.

Akhilesh Yadav has decided that the image of a young CM eager to shed his party’s baggage, which includes a legacy of lawlessness and tainted candidates, is the way forward for him. The huge swell of support for him during the face-off with his father was a clear indication of people’s desire for a clean government. But as long as people like Ansari keep getting elected, it makes one wonder just how deep does the desire run?

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