As campaigning for the last phase of the Uttar Pradesh election draws to a close, a son with a clean track record campaigned without drawing much attention of the national media. Former sports shooter Abbas Ansari, sporting aviator glasses and ponytail, canvassed from house to house in Village Sarwan in the constituency of Mau. His father is the notorious Mukhtar Ansari who is also the sitting MLA. but the junior Ansari is ‘gunning’ for the seat in this election.
Mukhtar Ansari has long been associated with crimes in Uttar Pradesh while his son Abbas participated in national and international shooting tournaments at junior and senior levels.
Mau will, which will vote on 7 March, has been gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari’s stronghold since 1996. Thanks to the peculiar kind of democracy in India, Ansari Sr has won the seat five consecutive times, including on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket in 2017, despite the BJP wave in the state five years ago.
Ansari Jr, 30, is contesting as a candidate of the Om Prakash Rajbhar-led Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), which is an ally of the Samajwadi Party (SP). The SBSP reportedly could not strike a seat-sharing deal with the BJP to retain its NDA membership, as the party ruling at the centre found its strike rate “pathetic”, said a source in the national party.
With the BJP campaigning hard against the “mafia” in this part of the state, Abbas is not banking on his sports background alone but is insisting time and against that his father, currently locked up in Banda jail, is innocent. “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.
Ansari Jr said he single-mindedly pursued his shooting career after passing Class 12 from the posh GD Goenka World School in Sohna, Gurugram. “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 taken part in skeet, rifle, and pistol events of the shooting sport, met with an accident and could not practice for a year. He was not able to get a spot in the Indian team for the 2016 Rio Olympics, but in 2018, he was “again part of the international team”.
In 2017, Abbas entered politics and contested the Uttar Pradesh assembly election from Ghosi but lost, by a slim margin, to Fagu Chauhan of the BJP.
It was in 2019 when Lucknow Police raided his Delhi home and booked him for allegedly procuring weapons illegally that he turned to politics full-time. “Things changed after 2019, and our party needed more people to work actively and hence I got more and more involved,” he said.
However, In Mau, the going is hardly smooth for Abbas. 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, as it appears to be a battle between the BJP’s pitch of improving law and order in the state and the clout the Ansari family wields here.
Last year, the Yogi Adityanath government had announced that it had seized and destroyed property worth Rs 1,000 crore belonging to various gangsters, including Mukhtar Ansari, over the previous four years. In the run-up to the election again, the chief minister promised that criminals would face his “bulldozer” after the results are announced.
In Yogi’s address at a rally in District Mau, the chief minister once again highlighted that law and order was a primary agenda for the BJP, and that the government was initiating strict action against the mafia.
The people of Mau understood that Yogi was hinting at Mukhtar Ansari when he said at his rally that “bulldozers don’t speak, but act”. The BJP 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 rubbished such accusations and says that the people of Mau “love and respect” his father, which is why they had voted for him in five elections.
The son of Mukhtar 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.
Mukhtar Ansari’s son does not make much of the allegation of “darr ki rajneeti (rule of fear)” practised by his father. “Darr ki rajneeti 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 support not just from Muslims but also from 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 had 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.
Abbas claims his 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 three-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 said that he was 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.”
Mau has a sizeable number of voters from the Islamic community and Rajbhar clan. Out of the estimated 5 lakh voters in the Mau assembly constituency, there are about 1.25 lakh Muslims, 1 lakh Dalits and 55,000 Rajbhars. The SBSP, on whose ticket Abbas Ansari is contesting, purportedly represents an OBC community, much as some of the prominent Rajbhars from the state are now in the BJP, with a few even enjoying their status of ministers.
“Samikaran aisa hai ki Ansari seat nikal sakte hain (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 believe that Mukhtar Ansari has worked for the poor. They regard him as a Robin Hood-type 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.