The rise and fall of two UP strongmen

Hindustan Times | ByK Sandeep Kumar, Farhan Ahmed Siddiqui, Sudhir Kumar, Prayagraj/varanasi
Sep 07, 2020 12:25 AM IST

Lodged in jails outside the state, Atiq Ahmad and Mukhtar Ansari, the once-feared gangsters clad in white kurta-pyjama, are now mere spectators to the gradual implosion of their empires.

They built their empires at the intersection of crime and politics, dominating their bastions in Uttar Pradesh with money and muscle power. Their fiefdom invoked fear among commoners and their names inspired awe among followers. But all that is in the past.

Atiq Ahmed (Left) and Mukhtar Ansari (Right).(PTI)
Atiq Ahmed (Left) and Mukhtar Ansari (Right).(PTI)

Lodged in jails outside the state, Atiq Ahmad and Mukhtar Ansari, the once-feared gangsters clad in white kurta-pyjama, are now mere spectators to the gradual implosion of their empires.

Their men are hounded by police; their gun licenses are being cancelled and their properties seized; and their clout is diminishing.

For the bahubalis (as the musclemen were called), what remains is a past of prominence, one that is constructed by a complex web of crime and politics but, nonetheless, is an important chapter in UP’s social landscape.


Ahmad, now 60, is said to have committed his first murder in 1979. And there was no looking back for him in the world of crime.

A five-time legislator and a one-time parliamentarian, Ahmad has 96 criminal cases against him. He has been named in cases of murder, abductions, illegal mining, extortion, intimidation and fraud, among others.

He started calling the shots in the Allahabad (now Prayagraj) region after the death of his rival, Shaukat Ilahi, in a police encounter in 1989.

Incidentally, he made his debut in representative politics in the same year, winning the Allahabad West assembly seat as an independent candidate.

Not only Allahabad, Ahmad was able to make his presence felt from Kaushambi to Chitrakoot and from Lucknow to Kanpur.

He retained the Allahabad West seat twice (1991 and 1993) as an independent candidate. In 1996, he contested on a Samajwadi Party (SP) ticket and won. He joined the Apna Dal in 1999 and won the seat again in 2002.

In 2003, Ahmad returned to the SP. In 2004, he became a parliamentarian from the Phulpur Lok Sabha constituency, a seat once held by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

“Atiq Ahmad was an important leader of the party and served as its UP president,” Pallavi Patel, the acting national president of the Apna Dal (Kamerawadi), said, commenting on his stint in the party.

She added that the party formed by her late father, Sone Lal Patel, followed the path of issue-based politics and took decisions that it felt served the common man. “I am not aware of any efforts by him in the recent past to rejoin the party. Even now if he approaches the party, the party leadership will look into it and decide on its merit.”

Ahmad’s downfall began in 2007 during the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)’s rule, when police mounted pressure on him and his brother, Ashraf. They eventually surrendered in 2008, but were released in 2013, a year after the SP came back to power.

Ahmad contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 from Shravasti but lost. Gradually, differences surfaced between Ahmad and the SP. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav avoided him on stage at a public meeting in Kaushambi in May 2016.

Dan Bahadur ‘Madhur’, the long-serving Prayagraj district spokesperson of the SP, said his party distanced itself from Ahmad after Akhilesh Yadav took over as its national president in January 2017. “Even today, we are following the same path of clean politics,” he said.

Ahmad was arrested in February 2017 from the Naini area in Prayagraj in connection with an attack on employees of a state university at the fag end of the SP’s rule. The action came after the Allahabad high court pulled up the police for their failure to arrest him.

But Ahmad’s political ambitions were not over. From jail, he filed nomination from the Varanasi constituency against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019 and got 855 votes.

In June 2019, Ahmad was shifted to an Ahmedabad jail on the orders of the Supreme Court.

Back home, his younger brother, Ashraf, is behind the bars after his arrest in July 2020. His eldest son, Umar, is absconding. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has announced a reward of Rs 2 lakh for information leading to Umar’s arrest. Many of Ahmad’s men have been put behind the bars and regular raids are being carried out to track down others.

“Some new names will be added to the list of his gang members soon as many youngsters joined him in recent years,” said Civil Lines circle officer Brajnarayan Singh, who is part of the operation against Ahmad and his gang.

The administration has cancelled 30-odd gun licenses linked to Ahmad and his men. At present, he is left with just one gun license — that of a pistol, according to Abhishek Dixit, the Prayagraj senior superintendent of police.

The Prayagraj district administration recently ordered the attachment of seven of his immovable properties worth around Rs 60 crore. Another 17 properties have been identified for action even as 16 firms linked to Ahmad and his gang are under scrutiny.

Of the many charges against him, Ahmad is accused of protecting the criminals involved in the gan-grape of some madrasa students in 2007. The incident kicked off a massive protest by locals.

In December 2016, Ahmad and his men allegedly attacked employees of Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHUATS) when he could not meet the vice-chancellor to urge him to reconsider the expulsion of two students who were caught cheating in exams. A first information report (FIR) was lodged against him and he was arrested in February 2017. Earlier, in 2008, he was arrested for the 2005 murder of BSP legislator Raju Pal but granted bail.

“Many of his gang members have been arrested and put behind the bars. They have been shifted to different prisons across the state,” Dinesh Kumar Singh, Prayagraj superintendent of police (city), said.


A BSP legislator, Ansari has been lodged in a jail in Punjab’s Ropar since January 2019; his reign in eastern UP is all but over.

His named was linked to a murder in the late 1980s, but there was no evidence, said a retired police officer who did not want to be named.

At the dawn of the 90s, Ansari, who was involved in property business and contract work, began expanding his network in the world of crime.

In November 2005, he was linked to the murder of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Krishnanad Rai; Ansari was in jail when the incident occurred. In July 2019, he was acquitted by a special CBI court.

In 2009, Ansari, who faces 48 FIRs including 10 murder cases, was again named in the killing of Ajai Prakash Singh, a contractor, in Mau. This time too, Ansari was acquitted, by a local court in Ghazipur in 2017.

An eyewitness to Singh’s murder, Ram Singh Maurya, was killed in 2010. Ansari was booked for his alleged role in the incident. The case is under trial in a special court for MPs/MLAs.

He successfully contested his first assembly election on a BSP ticket from the Mau seat in 1996. Denied the party’s ticket in 2002, he contested as an independent and won the seat in 2002. He retained his seat as an independent in 2007.

Later that year, he rejoined the BSP and unsuccessfully contested the parliamentary election against BJP stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi in 2009.

In 2010, Ansari was expelled from the BSP for his alleged criminal links. He floated the Quami Ekta Dal later that year, contested the 2012 assembly election from Mau as its candidate and won. In January 2017, he returned to the BSP, which fielded him from Mau in the 2017 assembly elections. Ansari won again.

The 57-year-old still appears to have the support of the local BSP unit. “The action against Ansari and his associates is full of political vendetta,” the party’s Mau president, Rajiv Kumar Raju, said.

At his peak, Ansari was active across eastern UP, including Varanasi, Mau, Ghazipur, Ballia and Chandauli, and the adjoining areas of neighbouring Bihar.

In January 2019, he was arrested for allegedly making an extortion call to a Mohali-based builder, who lodged a case. Ansari was arrested in that case and shifted to Punjab’s Ropar jail from Banda, where he was incarcerated in March 2017 in a separate case. He has been behind the bars since 2005 and lodged in several jails across the state on different charges.

In May 2020, police stepped up operations against Ansari and his gang. Seventy-two arms licenses linked to him and his accomplices were suspended, properties worth Rs 66 crore seized, and an extortion racket that supplied crores of rupees annually to Ansari and his associates was busted, according to the police.

“Ninety-seven criminals, including shooters, henchmen and Ansari’s allies were arrested during the drive. Action was taken against 75 of them under the Gangster Act, and all of them were sent to jail,” said Braj Bhushan, additional director general (ADG), Varanasi zone.

Those arrested included illegal traders of fish (four gangs), members of the extortion gang, and people linked to an illegal slaughter house and two criminal gangs.

“While the illegal fish traders and the extortion gang supported the Ansari gang financially, the criminal gangs used to commit crime at the instance of the Ansari gang,” Bhushan said.

The recent drive picked up pace after the registration of a case on June 1 against Ansari and five others in connection with them obtaining four arms licenses by furnishing fake addresses 19 years ago, Mau superintendent of police Anurag Arya said.

“The drive against hardcore criminals, gangsters, and their gangs will be accelerated further,” said ADG Bhushan.


“The action against the mafia in the state is happening following chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s strict instruction against criminals,” additional chief secretary (home) Awanish Kumar Awasthi said.

Underscoring the tough stand the BJP government has adopted, a tweet by the chief minister’s office in Hindi said on Friday: “Be it mafia or any other criminal, the UP government under the leadership of chief minister Yogi Adityanath, with its zero-tolerance policy, is fully committed to putting a full-stop in wrongdoings of such elements.”

Soon after coming to the power in March 2017, the BJP government launched a drive against the hardcore criminals and gangsters, said the Kashi region BJP vice-president, Dharmendra Singh.

“Under the drive, action has been taken against a number of criminals and gangsters. The state government has a clear policy to eliminate crime from the state,” he said.

But the opposition SP is not convinced; it alleged that the administration was taking selective action.

“The ill-gotten and illegally acquired properties must be taken back by the government; encroachment on land must be freed from illegal possession. If the government is doing it under a legally sanctioned process, then nobody should have any objections. The action of the government must not be based on pick-and-choose mechanism,” said SP spokesperson Abdul Hafiz Gandhi.

“The recent drive against ill-gotten properties is carried out in a partisan manner. No action is being taken against those who are in the BJP or its sympathizers with it. Law must be equally applied to all irrespective of political affiliations. Criminals are criminals. They do not become innocent by joining the BJP,” he said.

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