Mau: Former international-level shooter Abbas Ansari looks every bit the seasoned politician, albeit just a little trendier in his aviator glasses and ponytail, as he flits from house to house in Sarwan village in Mau constituency, Uttar Pradesh. His father Mukhtar Ansari is the sitting MLA, but this time the junior Ansari is gunning for the seat.
Father and son look remarkably alike with their lovingly maintained handlebar moustaches, the tips pointing up just so, and penchant for white kurtas, but each has a very different public image.
Mukhtar Ansari and guns, when thought of together in UP, trigger an immediate association with criminal cases, including murder, intimidation, and extortion. Abbas wielding a gun, meanwhile, is associated with national and international shooting tournaments (where he has participated at junior and senior levels).
Mau constituency, which goes to vote on 7 March, has been gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari’s stronghold since 1996. He has won the seat five consecutive times, including on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket in 2017, despite the BJP wave in the state back then.
This time, though, with BSP chief Mayawati refusing to give him a ticket because of his “bahubali (henchman)” reputation, Mukhtar has passed the baton to his son.
Ansari junior, who is 30 years old, is contesting as a candidate of the Om Prakash Rajbhar-led Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), which is in a poll alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP).
With the BJP upping its rhetoric against the “mafia” in this region, Abbas is not only promoting his own “clean” image but is also defending the name of his father, who is currently locked up in Banda jail.
“My father is someone who is always there for his people — and the people of Mau are well aware of this. This election will show the BJP what people think of my father and our family,” he said.
A shooting career cut short, new target: Mau
Speaking to ThePrint, Abbas Ansari said he single-mindedly pursued his shooting career after passing Class 12 from the posh G.D. Goenka World School in Sohna, Gurgaon.
“I got interested in sports quite early and started shooting in 2009 when I was in Class 11. I won gold for the country on several occasions,” he said.
In 2014, Abbas, who has participated in skeet, rifle, and pistol tournaments, met with an accident and could not practice for a year. While he was not able to get a spot in the Indian team for the 2016 Rio Olympics, he said that, in 2018, he was “again part of the international team”.
In 2017, Abbas entered politics and contested the UP assembly polls from Ghosi, but lost out, by a slim margin, to Fagu Chauhan of the BJP.
The cue to really shift focus to politics came in in 2019, when the Lucknow Police raided his Delhi home and booked him for allegedly procuring weapons illegally.
“Things changed after 2019, and our party needed more people to work actively and hence I got more and more involved,” he said.
In Mau, though, the odds are tricky.
While the BJP has given its ticket to Ashok Kumar Singh, whose brother was allegedly killed by Mukhtar Ansari’s men in 2009 [Ansari was acquitted in the case in 2017], the BSP has fielded its state president Bhim Rajbhar, making it a triangular contest.
Mau has emerged as a seat of particular interest in eastern Uttar Pradesh, with many seeing it as a battle between the BJP’s pitch of improving law and order in the state, and the clout of the Ansari family.
Last year, the Yogi Adityanath government announced that it had, over four years, seized and destroyed property worth Rs 1,000 crore belonging to various gangsters, including Mukhtar Ansari. In the run-up to the polls, too, the chief minister promised that criminals will face his “bulldozer” after the results are announced.
During ThePrint’s visit, CM Adityanath addressed a rally in Mau district where once again he highlighted that security was a prime agenda for the BJP, and that the government was initiating strict action against the mafia.
In this part of the state, there was little doubt that Yogi was hinting at Mukhtar Ansari when he said at his rally that “bulldozers don’t speak, but act”. The BJP has also highlighted in its campaign that lawlessness will prevail and alleged “gangsters” like Azam Khan, Atiq Ahmad, and Mukhtar Ansari will be out of jail if “the SP returns to power”.
Abbas Ansari, however, dismisses such accusations and says that the people of Mau “love and respect” his father, which is why they have voted for him in five elections.
‘Fight between BJP propaganda & people’s love for my father’
Abbas Ansari insists that his father’s popularity cannot be undercut by the “propaganda” of the BJP.
“We believe in justice and we know that it will be delivered. One can win by force once or twice, but not five times,” he said.
When asked about allegations that Mukhtar Ansari enforced a “darr ki rajniti (rule through fear)”, Abbas smiled.
“Darr ki rajniti kitne din chalti hai (How long can rule through fear last)? For the past several years, [the BJP government] has kept him in jail and people realise this. He gets the support not just of Muslims but also of our Hindu brothers and sisters. They are trying to divide us on religious lines, but it won’t be possible this time,” he said.
When asked why he decided to contest this time, Abbas explained that his father’s imprisonment and a case registered against his mother prompted him to take the plunge.
According to him, the family has suffered hardships as a result of the property seizures, but are not willing to give up.
“Our house and other properties were confiscated so I took up a small house on rent [in Mau] where I stay with my mother, wife and my 3-month-old son. This election is a fight between the propaganda of the BJP government and the love that my father enjoys,” he said.
Abbas added that he is in frequent touch with his father via phone. “We try to talk every day but, sometimes, they deliberately mute the call or end it abruptly. But we do talk and, despite facing so many troubles, he always tries to cheer me up.”
Mixed feelings in Mau
Mau has a sizeable number of voters from the Muslim and Rajbhar communities. Out of the estimated 5 lakh voters in Mau assembly constituency, there are reportedly around 1.25 lakh Muslims, 1 lakh Dalits, and 55,000 Rajbhars. The SBSP, on whose ticket Abbas Ansari is contesting, has significant support among the Rajbhars, an OBC community.
“Samikaran aisa hai ki Ansari seat nikal sakte hai (the equation is such that Ansari can win the seat)” a close aide of Abbas said.
Voters of the area, however, have mixed feelings.
Some claim that Mau is now known as a gangster’s constituency. “Our constituency has been given a bad name because of Mukhtar Ansari. Wherever we go, the moment they hear ‘Mau’, they start judging us,” Mau resident Shyam Singh said.
Others, however, believe that Mukhtar Ansari has worked for the poor, and regard him as a Robin Hood-esque figure.
“Aapke liye kharab hoga, mere liye nahi hai (he may be a bad guy to you, but not to me). He has never harmed the poor, but only the rich. He is a large-hearted person, and when you ask him for some work, he tries to do it,” Subhash Kumar, a resident of Sultanpur, said.
Kumar believes that while Abbas Ansari may benefit from reflected glory from his father, the fact that the BSP has fielded another candidate might make it harder for him to take over from where Mukhtar Ansari left off.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)