Lucknow: Will the high stakes 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh mark the end of a culture of ‘bahubalis’ (strongmen) and ‘dabang’ (fearless) in the state’s politics, or will it, at least, reduce its influence?
Developments over the run up to polls, however, show how political parties’ love for ‘bahubalis’ has considerably cooled.
Now, there is a change in political behaviour — instead of giving gangster-politicans tickets, parties are instead opting for their sons and wives to retain their support bases.
Thus, the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) is fielding the jailed Mukhtar Ansari’s son Abbas from Mau Sadar constituency, while the BJP has given tickets to the wives of two of its convicted MLAs, Sanjeev Raja and Indra Pratap Tiwari.
The SP, too, is fielding jailed former minister Gayatri Prasad Prajapati’s wife Maharaji Prajapati from Amethi constituency.
UP once saw gangster-turned politicians like Hari Shanker Tiwari, Mukhtar Ansari, Atiq Ahmed and Brijesh Singh contesting from inside jails and winning, as did convicted politicians like Amarmani Tripathi.
In this election season, top Bharatiya Janata Party campaigners, led by PM Narendra Modi himself, have targeted rivals for links with “dangai” (rioters), “dabang” and “mafia”.
The high law and order pitch has significantly curtailed the prospects of so-called strongmen across party lines.
Opposition parties — the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)-Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) alliance, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Congress and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) — are now more wary of fielding candidates with a criminal past.
Mukhtar Ansari avoided by parties in Mau
The one name that tops the list of UP’s contemporary mafia don-turned-politicians — highlighted by BJP national president J.P. Nadda’s campaign speeches across UP — is that of jailed eastern UP gangster Mukhtar Ansari, who once had as many as four dozen cases lodged against him.
He is the sitting BSP MLA from Mau constituency.
Amid rumours of his release, fuelled by Ansari getting bail in an old Gangster Act case in Mau Wednesday, the police issued a denial, stating that the leader of the inter-state gang number 191 continues to be lodged in jail in connection with 12 cases.
Ansari may have won from the Mau Sadar constituency since 1996 but, for the first time, the seat will witness an election without him.
Denied a ticket by BSP supremo Mayawati, who made the announcement in September 2021, Ansari wanted to fight the polls with support from the SBSP, whose leader O.P. Rajbhar was open to the idea.
Insiders say that while Ansari was in process of filing his nomination, a rethink made the alliance to opt for his son, Abbas Ansari, after senior alliance partner SP remained firm on not fielding Mukhtar Ansari.
Abbas Ansari has got a SBSP ticket to contest from Mau Sadar.
The party is, however, projecting it as a transfer of power to the next generation.
SBSP national general secretary and spokesperson Arun Rajbhar told ThePrint that they had left the choice to Ansari’s family and the candidature of Abbas was in line with the party’s effort to induct young faces.
“Nayi hawa, nayi Sapa hai (It’s fresh air and a fresh SP). The SP-SBSP alliance has decided to bring young faces in mainstream politics with Akhilesh Yadav’s efforts to encourage the youth,” Rajbhar said.
Lucknow-based political expert Brajesh Shukla, however, points out that Akhilesh had called off a proposed merger of Ansari’s Qaumi Ekta Dal with the SP in 2016.
On asked why he was being fielded from Mau Sadar in place of his father, Abbas, who filed two additional sets of nominations Thursday, did not give a clear answer, alleging irregularities in the nomination process.
Arun Rajbhar asked that when the BJP gives political patronage to gangsters like Dhananjay Singh (BJP ally Janata Dal-United’s candidate from Jaunpur’s Malhani) and Brijesh Singh (independent MLC from Varanasi, supported by the BJP), why was Abbas’ candidature being targeted.
“Anyone who fights for the BJP is a nationalist. The BJP has given political patronage to gangsters, but whenever a gangster joins the BJP, he becomes honest and nationalist, and those with the SP become traitors. Brijesh Singh has 125 cases against him,” he said.
Ambitious gen next takes over in Ghazipur’s Mohammadabad
A similar drama was enacted in Ghazipur district.
There, Mukhtar Ansari’s elder brother Sibghatullah Ansari had joined the SP last year from the BSP along with his son Suheb (also called Mannu).
Yet, even after filing his nomination from the Mohammadabad seat (he is a former MLA from the constituency), Sibghatullah had to retract it after Suheb approached Akhilesh Yadav for a ticket, a source confirmed.
“Sibghatullah was keen on fighting the polls but it was Mannu’s ambition and SP’s preference of Mannu over the former that led to the withdrawal of Sibghatullah’s candidature…. The transfer of power has actually happened in Mau Sadar, where Abbas has taken over from Mukhtar,” he said.
Asked about the change in the candidature of Ansari brothers, SP chief spokesperson Rajendra Chowdhary said he would not like to comment on what the BJP was alleging and blamed it of “raking non issues ahead of elections”.
Criminals out, wives in for BJP in two seats
The BJP, which is leading the charge against the Opposition, especially the SP, for its links with the mafia, has replaced two of its sitting candidates after they were convicted on criminal charges and fielded their wives instead.
While Aligarh (City) MLA Sanjeev Raja is currently out on bail after he was convicted and handed a two-year prison term for assaulting a cop, he has been debarred from contesting the polls. The BJP gave a ticket to his wife, ‘Shrimati Mukta Sanjeev Raja, as per election posters in Aligarh.
Similarly, the BJP has fielded Gosainganj (in Ayodhya district) BJP MLA Indra Pratap Tiwari’s wife Arti Tiwari.
Indra Pratap, alias Khabbu Tiwari, was convicted in a 29-year-old case of using a fake marksheet for admission, on which a local court announced the verdict in October last year, sentencing him to five years imprisonment.
A known history sheeter, Tiwari was formerly with the BSP and SP, but joined the BJP in 2017. In his affidavit for the 2017 polls, he declared that four cases were lodged against him, including that of murder.
The SP has also fielded former minister Gayatri Prasad Prajapati’s wife Maharaji Prajapati from Amethi constituency. Prajapati is serving a life imprisonment term after his conviction in a rape case last year.
Talking to ThePrint, BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi said that none of the candidates of the BJP had any serious charges against him and attacked the SP for giving Mukhtar a way out by fielding his son from Mau Sadar and giving a ticket to Nahid Hasan from Kairana as well as Prajapati’s wife.
Nahid, who has at least 16 cases lodged against him, was arrested by the UP police in January for his involvement in a Gangster Act case.
BSP retains Amanmani Tripathi despite opposition
Nautanwa MLA Amanmani Tripathi, whose name has cropped up in connection with his wife Sara’s murder, has been fielded by the BSP from the seat.
Though murdered poet Madhumita Shukla’s sister Nidhi Shukla and Sara’s mother Seema Singh had been doing rounds of various political parties to ensure Tripathi does not get a ticket, the BSP party declared his candidature. This is despite Mayawati announcing last year that the BSP will not field any candidate with criminal records.
Amanmani is the son of four-time MLA Amarmani Tripathi, who is currently serving a life imprisonment term in the Madhumita Shukla murder case along with his wife.
Talking to ThePrint, BSP national spokesperson M.H. Khan, however said that the charges against Amanmani were yet to be proved and he is yet to be convicted.
End of the road for gangster Atiq Ahmed
Another name featuring prominently in top BJP leaders’ attacks on ‘mafiaraj’ in campaign speeches is Atiq Ahmed.
Atiq won the Allahabad West seat five times consecutively between 1989-2004 (thrice as an independent candidate and twice on SP and Apna Dal tickets), vacated the seat in 2004 when he was elected as an MP on an SP ticket from the Phulpur constituency.
Atiq was defeated in the 2012 assembly polls when he stood on an Apna Dal ticket from Prayagraj, after he was expelled by SP in 2008 and denied a ticket by BSP. He returned as an SP candidate for Shrawasti in the 2014 LS polls, but lost again.
The gangster-turned politician, who once boasted of having 188 cases lodged against him, is currently lodged in Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati jail after his transfer from a UP jail.
With his wife deciding to opt out of the poll fray despite being fielded on an AIMIM ticket, 2022 is set to mark the end of the political career of Atiq Ahmed.
Since December 2016, Atiq was once again arrested in an assault case and in 2019 was shifted to Sabarmati Jail after a Supreme Court order.
With Atiq and his brother Kashif in jail, his wife Shaista Parveen joined the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM in September 2021.
AIMIM leaders, who were confidently announcing her candidature from Allahabad (West), her husband’s old bastion, confirmed that she did not file her nomination.
Insiders say a police case lodged against her son Ali on December 31 discouraged her.
“There is no male member in her family. Her son has also been absconding ever since he was booked. She felt she could not fight the polls in such a situation,” AIMIM Prayagraj district spokesperson Afsar Mehmood told ThePrint.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)