UP polls: Ansari’s shadow looms over badlands of Mau

Mar 03, 2022 11:39 PM IST

Uttar Pradesh assembly election 2022: Abbas Ansari, the son of the sitting five-time MLA Mukhtar Ansari, is fighting on a ticket from Om Prakash Rajbhar’s SBSP, in an alliance with the SP.

MAU: Just outside Kopaganj, around 10km from Mau, Wasim Rizvi and Satindra Rajbhar are deep in discussion about the electoral choices they face on March 7, and are arriving at a consensus. Rizvi and Rajbhar are farmers, neighbours and friends, one dilapidated red brick wall separating their homes. But their politics has often been wide apart. Thirty nine-year-old Rizvi has always voted for Mukhtar Ansari. Rajbhar has always voted where his community has, mostly against Ansari. But in 2022, Ansari’s son Abbas is fighting on a Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) ticket, the party led by Om Prakash Rajbhar, now part of the opposition. Satindra Rajbhar’s 19-year-old son, Yashaswi interrupts, no longer able to contain himself. He smiles, tilts his head to the right, exaggeratedly shuts one eye, two of his fingers and his thumb at a right angle, mimicking a gun. “Now, if we have a fight, even we can ask the Ansaris to step in,” he says, and pulls the trigger. He is only half joking. Because in Mau, life and politics, have always been steeped in violence.

Mukhtar Ansari has won the Mau Sadar assembly seat five times since 1996. (FILE PHOTO)
Mukhtar Ansari has won the Mau Sadar assembly seat five times since 1996. (FILE PHOTO)

The candidates for the Mau assembly constituency themselves tell a story. In one corner is Abbas Ansari, the son of the sitting five-time MLA Mukhtar Ansari, fighting on a ticket from Om Prakash Rajbhar’s SBSP, in an alliance with the SP. While the son goes from village to village, the gangster father is lodged in Banda jail, with a criminal record that has over forty cases against him, including the alleged killing of MLA Krishnanand Rai in 2005. Violent history notwithstanding, such is the Ansari influence that Mukhtar Ansari has won the seat twice from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), twice as an independent, and once from his own Quami Ekta Dal. In the other corner is one of his arch nemeses Ashok Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who accuses Ansari of ordering the death of his brother Ajay Prakash Singh in 2009, and then the prime witnesses in the case. Multiple cases filed by the Singh family against Ansari are still pending in the courts.

Also Read | Mukhtar Ansari gets bail in 11-yr-old case; to stay in jail

Just off the Mau bypass, in front of the district BJP office, a group of 10 party workers speak of Ashok Singh in almost the same hushed admiration as the name Ansari elicits elsewhere. They talk glowingly of his refusal to bow before personal tragedy, of his home that has turned into a fortress, and the three armed bodyguards that must follow him everywhere he goes.

“Since 2009, he has faced threats, offers to compromise but he has rejected them all. This is a combination that Mau has been waiting for. A local candidate who is not afraid of the Ansaris, and a chief minister who is destroying their empire. Only Yogi Adityanath could have forced Ansari not to contest, and he has handed over to his son. The bulldozers are razing Mukhtar Ansari’s illegal wealth. Ashok Singh will raze their political legacy from Mau,” said Saket Singh.

Mau, like many other towns in Uttar Pradesh, is aspirational, bursting out of its mofussil town seams. One of the first glass-fronted showrooms on the main road that approaches from Varanasi is a Royal Enfield franchise; a little further away is a second-hand car showroom called Autowheels. There are three cars for sale; each a Toyota Fortuner. Yet, Mau’s roads are dusty and cracked, drains often open and overflowing, a classic Indian small-town getting ahead of itself.

In some quarters, there is desire for that to change. Sangam Rana, a 22-year-old student said, “This has been such a high-profile seat, but very little has happened. If the BJP wins, they will know they have to work to retain the seat, and things will speed up. For years, all Mau has come to be known is as a gangster capital. Law and order is being fixed everywhere, and Mau should not be kept away from that.”

Also Read | Mukhtar’s absence may impact east UP politics around Mau, say locals

Unarguably, the name Mukhtar Ansari has been used by the incumbent BJP, much more than the Opposition in this assembly campaign. Across the state, BJP’s campaigners, from Yogi Adityanath to Union home minister Amit Shah, have referred to him as an example of the Opposition’s affinity to “mafia raj”. Ansari is one of their shining examples of the BJP’s law and order argument, fitting neatly into their binary. “Under the BJP, he is in jail. Under the Samajwadi Party, he will emerge and strengthen his reign of terror”, goes the reasoning.


Yet, on the ground in Mau, shades of grey overpower black and white. Seventy eight-year-old Brij Mohan Yadav is reading a newspaper, cross-legged, on a wooden bench at a tea stall just metres away from the district magistrate’s residence and the central office of the Abbas Ansari campaign. Yadav is getting angrier by the minute, having to defend Ansari, but one argument annoys him more than others. “Arre, nobody in this government reads any history, whether its India’s history or Mau’s history. They say Mukhtar Ansari is a Muslim leader. The first group he was part of, in the seventies and eighties, was led by Makhanu Singh. So many of his people are Hindus. There has been violence, yes, but it is driven by two sides, and no poor person has been affected. Nobody wins just on fear for 25 years. It is love. Ask anyone if Mukhtar Ansari has ever helped them, and in Mau, the answer will always be yes.”

Also Read | On Mukhtar turf, Yogi urges people to reject Mafiosi, their supporters

Madan Chouhan owns the tea stall, and nods furiously. The Ansaris are benevolent benefactors, he says, and in their “durbaar”, their parallel government, nobody ever goes home empty-handed. “If you want to, and don’t have the money for a teerth yatra, they will arrange. If you want to go to Haj, they will arrange. My younger daughter had to get married in 2020, and because of Covid, I had no money. I sent word, and in a day, I received money. Everybody looks at the bad things, but the family has always taken care of Mau,” Chouhan says.

With Mukhtar Ansari being in jail, the SP-led alliance has tried to play its cards cleverly, attempting to manoeuvre its way out of traps laid by the BJP. The choice of Abbas Ansari, replacing his jailed father is one of them, their leaders argue. Abbas Ansari is fighting on a SBSP ticket and there is a significant Rajbhar population in the seat. Abbas Ansari is young, with a relatively clean image, having a business administration degree and has competed for India in international shooting events. The difference in image construction, the attempt to steer clear of the law and order debate is obvious, but the relationship is close enough to tell supporters that Mukhtar Ansari is still very much in command. While Abbas Ansari has fought once before, losing narrowly from the Ghosi Vidhan Sabha constituency to the now Bihar Governor Fagu Chauhan in 2017, he takes over his father’s legacy. In neighbouring Mohammadabad too, another change of guard is taking place, with Mannu Ansari, Mukhtar Ansari’s nephew, fighting the polls on a SP ticket. But Brij Mohan Yadav is dismissive of the younglings. “They may even become MLAs, but their time is not now. There is only one man that defines an election in Mau. And that is Mukhtar Ansari.”

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