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With big parties avoiding them, ‘Bahubali’ netas on sticky wicket this poll season

Political observers point out that this is perhaps the first general elections in the recent past that so many politically active ‘Bahubali Netas’ find themselves in uncertain waters and are jostling for their political survival.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 24, 2019 09:14 IST
K Sandeep Kumar
K Sandeep Kumar
Hindustan Times, Prayagraj
Bahubali neta getting tickets
Mukhtar Ansari

While political parties are divided by ideologies, one thing that’s common in them all is the patronage to Bahubali (strongmen) politicians — especially in Uttar Pradesh.

However, in a departure from the past, major political parties have sidelined prominent strongmen such as Atiq Ahmed of Prayagraj, Mukhtar Ansari of Mau, Dhananjay Singh of Jaunpur, Vijay Mishra of Gyanpur, Raja Bhaiyya of Pratapgarh and Ramakant Yadav of Azamgarh.

Political observers point out that this is perhaps the first general elections in the recent past that so many politically active ‘Bahubali Netas’ find themselves in uncertain waters and are jostling for their political survival.

Most of them are being forced to opt for smaller parties, float their own political outfits or explore entering the poll fray as independent candidates.

Mafiosi-turned-politician Atiq Ahmed, who once enjoyed patronage of top SP leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shivpal Yadav and has served as an SP MP from Phulpur seat from 2004 to 2009, stands no chance of getting a ticket from the SP-BSP coalition or the BJP and the Congress.

“Like during 2018 by-polls, he seems to have only the option of contest as a candidate of a smaller party or as independent,” said Badri Narayan, noted political analyst and director of GB Pant Social Science Institute.

Ahmed has earlier won Allahabad West assembly seat in 1989, 1991, 1993 and 1996. He was expelled from the Samajwadi Party in 2008 and BSP chief Mayawati too refused him a ticket. He unsuccessfully contested the Pratapgarh seat on Apna Dal ticket. In 2014, he again contested from Shrawasti on SP ticket but lost by nearly 1 lakh votes to Daddan Mishra of the BJP. Presently, he is in jail.

Mukhtar Ansari, a five time MLA from Mau, is also not sure of getting a ticket from the BSP or the SP. Having started his career as a BSP man, he has switched sides repeatedly over the years.

He contested against BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi from Varanasi parliamentary seat in 2009 and lost narrowly by a margin of 17,211 votes.

In 2010, he was expelled from the BSP. He formed Quami Ekta Dal and consolidated his position in the Azamgarh, Mau and Ghazipur region.

In 2016, SP leader Shivpal Yadav tried to get his outfit merged with the SP but the present SP chief Akhilesh Yadav opposed it and this created a rift so big that Shivpal ultimately left the SP.

In January 2017, Mukhtar’s QEM merged with the BSP and he won the Mau seat as its candidate by defeating his nearest rival Mahendra Rajbhar of Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (a BJP ally) by 6,464 votes.

“However this time while Mukhtar himself, his son Abbas Ansari and brother Afsal Ansari are all vying for a ticket, the BSP at the most is expected to field only one of them and their failure to get what they want is a far cry from the old days,” added Prof Narayan.

Ansari too is lodged in jail currently.

Dhananjay Singh, who began his political career with a win from Rari assembly seat (now known as Malhani) in 2002, has served as Jaunpur MP after getting elected from the seat in 2009 as a BSP candidate.

This election, he is said to be trying to get a ticket from the BJP owing to his alleged closeness with the BJP leader Rajnath Singh.

However, with the SP-BSP joining forces, chances of his getting a ticket from the BJP are remote. Even getting a ticket from the Congress seems tough especially in the light of ongoing cases, believe many.

The strongman of Kunda (Pratapgarh) Raghuraj Pratap Singh aka Raja Bhaiya has been representing the seat since 1993 as an independent MLA and has served as UP minister in BJP’s Kalyan Singh government of 1997, in Ram Prakash Gupta and Rajnath Singh’s cabinet in 1999 and 2000 besides Akhilesh Yadav government in 2012.

He has recently floated Jansatta Dal (Loktantrik) and is likely to field candidates on a few seats.

Vijay Mishra, who won the Gynapur seat of Bhadoi in 2002, 2007 and 2012 on SP ticket, was expelled from the party in 2017. He nevertheless contested the seat again in 2017 and won the seat for the fourth consecutive time as candidate of the Nishad Party. Nishad Party, however, expelled him in March 2018. This time he and leaders close to him are eyeing the BJP but have not yet succeeded in getting a ticket.

Ramakant Yadav is considered a strongman in Azamgarh region. He was earlier with the SP, joined the BSP in 2004 and later the BJP in 2008. He won the Azamgarh seat on the BJP ticket in 2009. In 2014, he took on SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav and lost narrowly. So far he too has not got a ticket from the BJP and is believed to be again eying the SP.

“This is a new trend where the strongmen leaders are struggling to find any takers. In such a scenario they could opt for new parties like Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party of Shivpal Yadav or Jansatta Dal (Loktantrik) of Raghuraj Pratap Singh aka Raja Bhaiyya,” maintains political analyst Abhay Awasthi.

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From where it began…

Though UP has quite a history of strongmen entering political arenas, it all started in the Purvanchal region with the entry of Harishankar Tiwari of Gorakhpur in 1980s.

“He was elected an MLA from Chillupar seat after winning polls from behind bars in 1980’s. He remained an MLA for 23 years continuously,” recalls Prof Badri Narayan, a noted political analyst.

Tiwari, along with late Virendra Pratap Shahi, who won from Lakshmipur at the same time, are considered as two persons who ushered in the ear of strongmen politics in the state in a big way,” says Narayan.

“Within a short time, it became impossible for even bigger political parties to ignore these strongmen and they had a great run for around three decades on the basis of their clout, money and gun power,” says Narayan.

First Published: Mar 24, 2019 09:14 IST