After more than three years in power, as Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath displayed confidence about his government’s grip on law and order and claimed a successful offensive against organised crime in the state, the perception was dented by the killing of eight policemen in Bikru village of Kanpur district in July. Dreaded gangster Vikas Dubey’s sensational crime and undeniable proof of political and administrative patronage to him punctured the government’s claims of reining in the mafia.
The UP government faced intense criticism and the chief minister was left fuming over the ineptitude of his officers. The most sensational murders of policemen had come as a double-edged whammy for the ruling BJP as well as for the personal reputation of CM Yogi Adityanath. The brutal killings and the subsequent encounter of Vikas Dubey together threatened to damage the BJP’s politics both on the law-and-order front as well as the Brahmin caste sentiments.
Efforts to Salvage Image—focus Back on Ansaris
Desperate to salvage both his government’s image, it was time for the UP CM to focus back on law and order. Officers were pulled up and warned. Proceedings against the big mafia and organised crime syndicates were reviewed. And so the attention came back on jailed MLA Mukhtar Ansari and his men. The BSP legislator from Mau had mostly been behind the bars since 2005. However, being in jail had not been a deterrent to his electoral fortunes. Mukhtar had won the elections continuously since 1996.
The politician with the mafia tag had been accused of sensational crimes and is said to operate one of the biggest crime syndicates in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Mukhtar along with his brother Afzal Ansari, who is a member of Parliament from Gazipur constituency, were also accused in the murder of BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai in 2005 but were acquitted in the matter by a CBI special court in 2019. The same year Afzal defeated BJP stalwart and former union minister Manoj Sinha to enter the Lok Sabha on a BSP ticket.
With around 40 cases of heinous crimes ranging from murder, extortion and land grabbing, Mukhar Ansari is one of the most dreaded mobsters, as per the UP Police’s dossiers. The state Special Task Force (STF) too had been hot on the heels of his crime syndicate. Said to have deep interests in railways and other government contracts, UP Police feels the Ansaris have major influence across eastern UP and also in parts of Bihar.
As the BJP came to power in 2017, and Yogi Adityanath became the chief minister, the focus came back on Mukhtar and his operations. The UP government was quick to bring in a new law on the lines of MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act). It was said that the new law will deal a deadly blow to organised crime networks in UP, including that of Mukhtar.
During the initial months of Yogi rule, pressure indeed mounted on Ansari and his men. The MLA himself was shifted to Agra jail from Lucknow, many of his associates too were arrested and put behind bars. In July 2018, a serious blow was dealt to the gang when Munna Bajrangi, a dreaded gangster said to be a key associate of Mukhtar, was murdered inside Baghpat district jail.
However, with time the momentum was probably lost. The controversial encounter policy of the government was also seen increasingly with suspicion and often criticised for targeting small-time criminals. Senior journalist Sharat Pradhan says, “When political calculations dictate the government policies, justice is often lost. The government willing to silently play on communal lines probably got too focused on Samajwadi Party leader and Rampur MP Azam Khan and his alleged ill-gotten wealth, and attention from real issues of law and order was lost.”
Mukhtar is for Yogi What Raja Bhaiya was for Mayawati?
With a year and a half remaining for the next assembly elections, the Yogi government has suddenly shifted focus back on the Ansaris. In the span of a few months, several new cases related to illegal occupation of land, forgery in documents and possession of firearms have been registered against Mukhtar, his wife, sons and other family members.
The government machinery has swung into action with properties being demolished in Lucknow and other cities. Several arms licenses belonging to family members have been seized and reward declared on Mukhtar’s sons. UP Police is now also trying to bring back the MLA from Punjab’s Ropar jail.
The move has for now been stonewalled by the Punjab government, citing Mukhtar's ill health. Apparently the medical board constituted in August this year had found the jailed MLA was a patient of depression, diabetes and slipped disc and hence had advised against any movement.
The sudden haste in raising the heat against Mukhtar and dragging in his wife and sons raises some political questions as well. While the extent of his criminal empire and organised crime remain to be pursued by the police and determined by the courts, the strong political roots of the Ansaris in eastern UP is no hidden secret.
Hailing from Mohammadabad in Ghazipur district the Ansari family has a glorious past. Mukhtar’s grandfather Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari was a noted freedom fighter and president of Indian National Congress in 1926. His maternal grandfather was Brigadier Usman Ansari, a highly decorated army officer, who was killed in action in 1948 while fighting Pakistani soldiers and militia in Jammu and Kashmir. Hamid Ansari, the former vice president of India, too, is from the same family.
The family has also for long had a considerable political hold on the region, often disturbing the BJP’s calculations. While Mukhtar had maintained a strong grip on his seat of Mau for two decades, in 2009 he had almost snatched the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat from BJP stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi. Afzal Ansari’s win against Manoj Sinha in the 2019 Lok Sabha election too came as a big setback to the saffron party.
Clearly the Ansaris pose a clear challenge to the mighty BJP in at least some pockets of eastern UP. But beyond the dynamics of the east, the Ansaris with their religious identity probably also fit in the BJP’s larger narrative of Hindutva consolidation. Can decisive action against a Muslim mafia help?
Senior journalist Ramdutt Tripathi says, “Mukhtar can well be the same for Yogi Adityanath as was Raja Bhaiya for Mayawati and the BSP. If, for Mayawati, action against Kunda MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh, Raja Bhaiya, was a larger message of social justice to Dalits, for the BJP and the CM, it could well be the strong message to their core Hindutva fan following.”
Govt Claims No Bias, Family Says Faith in Judiciary
The Uttar Pradesh government dismisses arguments of deliberate haste and politics in pursuing cases against the Ansaris. Mrityunjay Kumar, the chief media adviser to the UP CM, says, “From day 1 our government has pursued a policy of zero tolerance against the criminals. A criminal is not identified by his caste or religion. Our CM is firm in his resolve to break the backbone of organised crime in the state."
The Ansari family is not willing to talk much. It feels the media too has acted in an irresponsible manner in the case. Speaking to News18, Ghazipur MP Afzal Ansari said, “It is out in the open for everyone to see how government agencies have acted in our case. We have nothing to say to the media, but we do have all faith in the judiciary. Rule of law will give us justice."
The family surely feels a bit upbeat following the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court’s order earlier this week, staying the arrest of Mukhtar’s sons Abbas and Umar in a related matter.