In a major development in the political hot seat of Varanasi, Quami Ekta Dal leader Mukhtar Ansari on Tuesday extended support to long-time rival and Congress candidate Ajay Rai.
Mukhtar, accused of masterminding the killing of Rai’s brother Awadesh, bowed out of the Varanasi race earlier this month to ensure Muslim votes against BJP’s Narendra Modi is not divided. The Varanasi seat is possibly the most-watched contest for this general election, where Modi will take on Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal and Rai among almost 38 other candidates.
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Mukhtar’s decision to back Rai was announced by Afzal Ansari, QED national president, on Tuesday.
Rai and Mukhtar have been locked in a bitter turf battle in Purvanchal that stemmed from the 1991 daylight murder of Awadesh Rai. The trial, that names the QED leader and four others, is still pending in a local court.
Since the murder, Rai joined hands with the anti-Mukhtar lobby in eastern Uttar Pradesh, including former BJP legislator Krishnanand Rai. That rivalry too was one of the fiercest, peaking with Mukhtar’s camp allegedly managing to gun down Krishnanand Rai and and seven of his supporters.
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Mukhtar Ansari is currently behind bars at the Agra prison for this case.
After Krishnanand Rai's death, Ajay Rai emerged as a powerful Bhumihar leader, the community to which he belongs, in east UP. He became the rallying point of anti-Mukhtar politics in UP.
Ajay Rai took to politics and became a three-time BJP MLA from Kolasala assembly segment, in Varanasi, which is now Pindra. He was also a state minister in the BJP government.
Ajay Rai left BJP when he was denied a ticket from Varanasi parliamentary constituency in 2009 general elections. Senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi was the official party candidate.
Ajay Rai's bonding comes as a shock to many in the badlands of Purvanchal.
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