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Who is celebrating Mukhtar Ansari’s death – the Dalitbahujan or the Savarna?

Mukhtar’s father Subhanullah was associated with the communist movement and his struggle against the landlords and feudal elements ensured that societal polarization in Purvanchal was more along class lines, than along communal lines. Mukhtar’s image was that of a Robin Hood, writes Saiyed Zegham Murtaza

Mukhtar Ansari’s death marks the end of a chapter in the politics of Purvanchal. The debate on whether he led a dreaded mafia or was a messiah of the poor apart, his demise has political implications. The politics being done around his death is proof enough. Against this backdrop, understanding how Mukhtar’s death will affect the politics of Purvanchal would be in order. 

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Mukhtar’s persona was full of contradictions. The media tells us Mukhtar led a dreaded mafia and was synonymous with terror in Purvanchal. Police records say that more than 65 cases were registered against Mukhtar. Jail records show that he was in prison for the past 20 years. On the other hand, electoral records show that despite all opposition, the Ansari family’s political clout in Ghazipur and Mau districts remains undiminished. 

For the upcoming elections, Mukhtar’s brother Afzal Ansari is Samajwadi Party’s candidate from the Ghazipur constituency. There are reports that Mukhtar’s son Abbas may stake claim to nomination from Mau (Ghosi) constituency.

But there is another record which has triggered all kinds of speculations.

Before his death, Mukhtar Ansari was kept in a prison in the Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. On 28 March, he was admitted to the Rani Durgawati Medical College Hospital. According to the hospital’s medical bulletin, Ansari (63) was wheeled into the Emergency Ward of the hospital at 8.45 pm with complaints of vomiting. When he was brought to the hospital, he was unconscious and subsequently, he died of cardiac arrest.   

His family has alleged that he was poisoned in jail. Though the autopsy report has ruled out any such possibility, the controversy lingers. That is because Ansari had himself voiced apprehension that he would be murdered. Last year, in December, his family had filed a petition expressing the fear that he would be murdered.  

His family members say that their apprehensions were not baseless. According to the Ansari family, Mukhtar was to depose in the Usri Chatti massacre case shortly. Brijesh Singh and Tribhuvan Singh are the accused in the case. His deposition, it is said, would have ensured the conviction of the accused.

Mukhtar Ansari being taken for a court hearing, which proved to be his last

Mukhtar’s associate Prem Prakash alias Munna Bajrangi was murdered inside Baghpat jail in 2018. Then, Merauddin and Muqueem Kala were killed inside Chitrakoot jail in 2019. Last year, Mukhtar’s former associate Sanjeev Maheshwari was shot dead on the court premises in Lucknow. Since then, Mukhtar Ansari and his family members had been consistently saying he would be murdered. Whatever the government and the police may say, the people suspect that there is something amiss.

Politics being done on Mukhtar’s suspicious death was expected. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders are trying to extract political mileage by claiming that Mukhtar’s death marks the end of terror in the area. Other parties are trying to cash in on the sympathy generated by his death. All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi has already met Ansari’s family to express his condolences. Samajwadi Party leader Shivpal Yadav has come out in support of the demand for a judicial probe into Ansari’s death. The Bahujan Samajwadi Party and the Samajwadi Party have expressed grief over his death. Congress leader Pappu Yadav has described his death as an “institutional murder”.

The people of Purvanchal have different views on the issue of Mukhtar’s death. They are divided – not along religious lines, but along social and caste lines. The Savarnas, especially Bhumihars, Kayasthas and Brahmins, are unconcerned. However, unlike in the case of Atiq Ahmed, they are not openly expressing their delight. But sympathy for him is palpable among the ordinary Muslims and a large section of the Dalitbahujan.

Mukhtar’s father Subhanullah was associated with the communist movement and his struggle against the landlords and feudal elements had ensured that societal polarization in the area was more along class lines, than along communal lines. Mukhtar’s image was that of a Robin Hood.

Unlike in the case of Atiq Ahmed, members of the vulnerable sections of society do not complain that Mukhtar Ansari or his brothers indulged in exploitation of the weak or usurped properties. Mukhtar Ansari and his kin did have a clout in the world of crime but their interactions with the common man were always civil.  

Saurabh Seth, of Shahganj in Jaunpur, says, “Mukhtar Ansari was never very powerful in his district. In any case, Jaunpur has always been polarized. However, both the BJP and the SP will try to use his death to their own advantage.” Mau’s Zahid Imam has an altogether different take. “The kind of emotions that Mukhtar’s death has evoked among Dalits and Muslims will impact not only Ghosi but also Ghazipur, Lalganj, Azamgarh, Ambedkar Nagar and Varanasi constituencies.”

What will be the extent of the impact? Shreyas Dwivedi, a Varanasi resident says, “The politics of BJP has been focused on evoking a bugbear and then luring the voters by claiming that the bugbear’s reign has ended. For the BJP voters, who were made to believe that Atiq and Mukhtar were villains, the latter’s death is like Vijayadashmi.” 

Suresh Rai, also from Varanasi, says, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi will definitely try to cash in on Mukhtar’s death. After all, Mukhtar was charged with the 1991 murder of Avdhesh Rai, who happens to be the brother of Ajay Rai – the joint opposition [INDIA alliance] candidate against Modi.” 

But Mukhtar’s death has saddened Ramkhilawan Gond of Chandauli. He says, “Despite knowing that I was not his voter, Mukhtar Ansari got my land freed from goons.” Ghazipur’s Adil Anwar says, “Before Mukhtar’s death, the voters were undecided. But now we know whom we should vote for.” Vijay Rajbhar, who lives in the Mohammadabad locality of Ghazipur, claims that if Samajwadi Party candidate Rajiv Rai, the present candidate from Mau, is replaced with Mukhtar’s son, he would be unbeatable. 

The comments make it clear what Mukhtar’s death means for Purvanchal. Clearly, the Dalits, the OBCs and the Muslims have sympathy for his family while the Savarnas are polarized in favour of the BJP. We will have to wait for the outcome of the polls but what is certain is that given the kind of politics done by Mukhtar Ansari, his father, brothers, sons and nephews, a big chunk of the poor and the Backwards will cast the sympathy vote.  

Are Ram Mandir and Gyanvapi Mosque not poll issues in Purvanchal? Clearly, given the proximity of Varanasi and Ayodhya, they are. But Mukhtar’s death has changed the situation and Mukhtar has become a key poll issue in Ambedkar, Ghazipur, Azamgarh and Mau. That in itself is a victory for the Ansari family.  

(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)

About The Author

Saiyed Zegham Murtaza

Syed Zegham Murtaza is an independent journalist based in Delhi. Born in Amroha, Uttar Pradesh, Murtaza has a masters in public administration and mass communication from Aligarh Muslim University. He is a regular contributor to various newspapers, magazines and news websites.

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