At 10.30 pm sharp last Sunday, three SUVs bearing registration number 0786 – all laden with marigold garlands – entered hotel Ashoka in Varanasi city. The man on the front seat of one of the cars stepped out with his men cordoning him. A long day at campaigning had just ended for don-politician Afzal Ansari.
Once pampered by Samajwadi Party patron Mulayam Singh Yadav and snubbed by his chief minister son Akhilesh Yadav, Afzal and his MLA brothers – Mukhtar and Sibakatullah Ansari – joined hands with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party in January.
“An individual is a prisoner of circumstances,” he gets philosophical. “I am a sadakchaap aadmi and not a don.”
Ansari brothers – as they are called – wield influence among Muslim and some backward castes in four districts of Ghazipur, Ballia, Azamgarh and Mau, accounting for two dozen assembly seats. Most of these are with the Samajwadi Party and the Quami Ekta Dal that Ansari brothers ran before merging it with the BSP.
Mayawati is trying to net these poorvanchal districts that have seen years of rivalry between Ansari brothers and “Hindu dons” – a bloody battle that felled many people, including BJP MLA Krishnanad Rai.
Mayawati is also being helped by former Samajwadi Party stalwarts such as Ambika Chaudhary and Narad Rai, who left Akhilesh’s company after being dropped from his council of ministers at the peak of the family feud in the Yadav family.
What political capital do Ansaris add to Myawati’s kitty? Are they influential enough to help the BSP regain the territory it lost to Akhilesh Yadav in 2012 and to the BJP in 2014? Afzal has some done calculation.
“The BJP swept this part in 2014. Today, it can’t say with confidence which seat it is winning,” Afzal says, counting constituencies where the BJP could be in trouble.
But, more than the BJP, they hurt the SP. A section of Muslims who owe allegiance to Ansaris are leaning towards the BSP in this region. In constituencies, such as Mohammadabad, Yadavs, too, are gravitating towards the BJP, at the cost of the SP.
“Ansaris said they will undress Mulayam (by defeating him). Yadavs will take revenge for this,” Alka Rai, the BJP candidate from Mohammadabad, told HT.
“A wind of change is blowing. People want peace.” Rai is widow of Krishnand Rai, another don-politician who was allegedly killed by Ansari brothers. She is pitted against Sibakatullah.
The BJP seems to be doing better than its 2012 performance in these districts but a repeat of 2014 Lok Sabha’s magical performance is a difficult task. A wave is missing for all three main formulations – SP plus Congress, BJP and the BSP – making every constituency a battle ground. The BJP is banking on the support of backward castes and Bhumihars, who dominate this region. The BSP is wooing a combination of Muslims and Dalits. The SP-Congress alliance is depending on Yadav-Muslim combine. It also hopes to benefit from the clean image that Akhilesh Yadav is cultivating for himself.