In what is one of the best socio-political narratives of eastern UP – summarised in the form of an Urdu novel called 'Aadha Gaon' – celebrated novelist Rahi Masoom Raza often refers to Sarjoo Pandey as a seditious communist leader determined to overthrow the social order. Till the nineties, Pandey was indeed a powerful leader of Ghazipur, considered to be a strong bastion of the communist party of India (CPI).
But Pandey’s greatest, and possibly gravest, mistake was to patronise the Ansari brothers – Afzal Ansari and his younger brother Mukhtar Ansari – giving them political legitimacy by inducting them into the party.
Afzal became a legislator, while Mukhtar took to guns and emerged as the most dreaded gangster of the region. Police officers posted in Ghazipur during that time were left aghast, when a legendary figure like Pandey would often come up to them and justify Mukhtar’s criminality in Marxist dialectics – describing it as a revolution against the Bhumihar-Rajput landlords of Ghazipur, Varanasi and Ballia.
Mukhtar, an ace-shooter capable of bringing down a flying bird with a single shot, surrounds himself with marksmen possessing outstanding firearm skills, and a scant regard for life.
His name features in sensational cases of murder, extortion and property-grabbing all across eastern UP. Though lodged in Jail for more than a decade while on trial for murder (of a political rival), extortion and criminal intimidation, Mukhtar is wanted more by politics in UP, than he was by the police.
When he changes his party, he finds patrons in all the parties. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, his contest against BJP stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi was seen as a fixed match, meticulously planned to trigger communal polarisation. In fact, the contest helped Joshi to win the election on the basis of communal consolidation, though he initially faced stiff resistance from within the BJP’s local organisation.
With the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections drawing near, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav appears determined to capitalise on the muscle power of Ansari brothers in eastern UP – with the merger of Mukhtar Ansari's Quami Ekta Dal (QED) with the Samajwadi Party (SP).
Apparently, in a region that borders with Bihar, power flows through the barrel of guns and deft equations of castes and community. And there are all indications that suggest that Mulayam Singh Yadav is desperately trying to harness a judicious mix of guns and caste/community consolidation to win the state Assembly election.
In the social calculus of eastern UP, Yadavs and Muslims form a sizeable social block of nearly 30 percent of the electorate. The SP’s eagerness to rope in the Ansari brothers is solely guided by its lust for accretion of votes.
There is a lurking fear in the entire region that the SP have lost its Muslim votes on account of a series of small riots in the area, and because of the state government’s image of being a ‘non-performer'. It seems that the deficit in governance is sought to be bridged by inducting Muslim gangsters into the party’s fold.
The return of Ansari brothers into mainstream UP politics would define a political trend in Uttar Pradesh. It seems that all political parties have been vying with each other to win over the gangsters, who claim to have a strong caste or communal social base.
Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s expression of 'righteous indignation' is meant to appease to the urban middle class, his support base in the 2012 Assembly elections. Within hours of the QED-SP merger, Akhilesh removed senior minister Balram Yadav, the one believed to have negotiated the merger.
In sharp contrast to his father, Akhilesh has carefully cultivated his image as a 'suave young leader', who is not associated with people with a rap sheet – in a party often accused of unleashing "goondaraj", every time it comes to power in UP. Remember the manner in which he threw out notorious western UP gangster DP Yadav from the party, on the eve of the 2012 Assembly elections.
In his four-and-a-half year regime as chief minister, Akhilesh has frittered away substantial amounts of his goodwill with the urban middle class. He is seen to be at helm of the country’s largest state, without any clear sense of direction.
This is the precise reason why party president Mulayam Singh Yadav has resorted to his methodology of mobilising support on caste/communal lines. Ironically, Ghazipur and neighbouring Azamgarh – known as communist bastions in the not too distant past – would turn into a battle-field of gangsters, irrespective of their affiliation with political parties.
Like Sarjoo Pandey in the nineties, senior leaders cutting across the party lines would describe their criminals as revolutionaries. Ghazipur is once again weaving a powerful socio-political narrative for the Hindi heartland, with a difference.
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Updated Date: Jun 24, 2016 09:26:40 IST