Lok Sabha elections 2024 | ‘Gangs of Eastern UP’: Lack of strongmen to level the electoral contest

Lucknow: The elections in the ‘Poorvanchal’ region (Eastern Uttar Pradesh), be it to the Lok Sabha, the Assembly or even the village panchayat heads, had over the years always witnessed the influence of the muscular men, whose mission was great. in their respective areas and many of them became MPs and MLAs even though they were in jail.

It was Hari Shankar Tewari, a powerful ‘Brahmin’ leader, who ruled supreme in Gorakhpur, the birthplace of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, in the 1980s and remained MLA from Chillupar constituency for over two decades. The later years witnessed the rise of gangsters-turned-politicians such as Mukhtar Ansari, Ateeq Ahmed, Dhanjanjay Singh and a few others.

Although Tewari, who was popularly known as ‘Baba’, started his political career from the Congress, he later contested elections as an independent and became a minister in several governments in the state. His bloody rivalry with Thakur leader Virendra Pratap Shahi, which claimed several lives, was still fresh in the minds of the people of Gorakhpur.

Tewari died in May last year and though his son had also been a member of the UP Assembly and the Lok Sabha, he never had the same ‘terror’ of popularity, at least among Brahmins.

Not far from Gorakhpur, it was Mukhtar Ansari, another mafia-turned-politician, who ruled the town of Mau, which was famous for its colorful ‘Banarasi Sarees’ made of silk. Mukhtar, who while in Banda district jail recently reportedly died after cardiac arrest, dominated politics in Mau and neighboring Ghazipur districts for about four decades.

Ansari, who faced 65 criminal cases, including those of murder, extortion and kidnapping, was a four-time MLA. His fear was so great that he won the election from behind bars. Mukhtar’s brother Afzal Ansari was a sitting MP from Ghazipur, while his son Abbas Ansari was an MLA from Mau town. Politicians, including Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav and even Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) president, and UP minister Om Prakash Rajbhar, an ally of the BJP, visited Mukhtar’s family to pay their respects to express condolences.

Rajbhar, whose son Arvind Rajbhar was contesting from the Ghosi LS seat on a BJP ticket, called Mukhtar ‘messiah of the poor’, leaving the saffron party leaders in the red.

Dhananjay Singh was another mafia-turned-politician whose name was big in Thakur-dominated Jaunpur district, barely 50 kilometers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s LS constituency Varanasi. Singh, who represented Rari seat in the UP Assembly in 2002 and also joined the LS from Jaunpur in 2009. Singh, who faced more than 40 criminal cases, was recently sentenced to seven years in prison for kidnapping an engineer. excluded from participating in the elections.

Singh’s wife Srikala Reddy, the chairperson of Zila Parishad of Jaunpur, has been expelled from the LS seat in Jaunpur by the BSP in the hope that the Thakur community would support her.

Similarly, Ateeq Ahmed, another gangster turned politician, was in charge in Prayagraj and a few adjoining districts. Ateeq, who was shot dead along with his brother Ashraf in outright anger when he was produced before a court in Prayagraj last year, was a five-time MLA and once a member of the Lok Sabha. Ateeq’s wife is in hiding and one of his sons was also shot dead during an encounter with police.

In Bhadohi, neighboring Jaunpur district, it was gangster and politician Vijay Mishra, whose name terrified the people. Mishra, who faced more than 80 criminal cases, was a four-time MLA. He was recently sentenced to three years in prison under the Arm’s Act and was currently in prison and banned from contesting elections.

(Published April 21, 2024, 1:49 PM IST)