Thursday, June 13, 2024

“Not ‘goons’ or ‘mafia,’ they are our representatives”; Ansaris of Ghazipur

“Their leader” is Afzal Ansari, the elder brother of Mukhtar Ansari, a five-time MLA from Mohammadabad Assembly seat and a two-time elected Member of Parliament from Ghazipur. Photo: Sahid Faris/Maktoob

If one visits Ghazipur, Mau, Azamgarh, or Eastern Uttar Pradesh, also known as Purvanchal in the local language, it is close to impossible that one doesn’t come across the name ‘Ansaris’, most specifically Mukhtar Ansari.

The Ansaris of the region have a longstanding history of serving the nation as freedom fighters, diplomats, scholars, and politicians at various intervals of time.

Most recently, the name in the headlines was Mukhtar Ansari, a five-time elected Member of the Legislative Assembly from the Mau Sadar seat of Uttar Pradesh, who breathed his last on March 28th, 2024, after spending a significant time of his life in jail.

His family members had alleged that Ansari was being slow-poisoned in prison, while the officials reported the death due to cardiac arrest.

If one goes by a cursory search on any search engine, Ansari is defined as ‘Gangster turned politician’. He was booked in almost 65 criminal cases ranging from extortion, murder and rioting at different periods of time.

However, the continuous media portrayal of him as a ‘mafia’, ‘don’, and ‘gangster’ somehow couldn’t manage to erase or lessen his formidable political and social influence in the region.

Since 1996, when he entered the Indian political landscape to date, he not only enjoyed the unwavering support from the masses of his region but from almost every political party.

Ansari’s successful political clout can be substantiated by the fact that he never lost any election in his Mau Sadar seat, despite being behind bars for two long decades on criminal charges.

To attend the funeral of Ansari, people gathered in large numbers, even though the district magistrate had threatened locals with registering a case against them if they attended his last rites.

Maktoob traveled to Mau and tried to trace the local sentiment, the impact of his death on the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, and the political and social aspirations of Mau and Ghazipur.

The town of Mau is spread across 20 km, seemingly silent during the day and much louder and vibrant at night due to the textile power looms that run its centuries-old saree industry, which usually starts working in the evening and runs until early morning.

Upon entering the region, one can notice men at almost every crossroad, gathered and immersed in political discussions while sipping tea from their earthen tea cups, even in the declared heat wave. The significant noise that comes from weaving sarees in the looms cannot be ignored.

Unemployment, education and Inflation

On one such crossroad was sitting Ali, a resident of Ghosi Lok Sabha, who said the major issues in the region are unemployment, price rise, and inflation.

He said, “There are crores of youth, graduates and educated with multiple degrees in hand, sitting jobless in their homes or at any of these crossroads like us, not just in villages but in cities too.”

“In the last 10 years, the only thing Modi could give to the youth and public was falsehood. Seven competitive exams were conducted in Uttar Pradesh during this time but all the papers were leaked. What do students do then? Modi promised 2 crore jobs in 2014; what happened to that promise? Those who were 28 years old 10 years ago are now 38 years old; will they be able to appear for the exams for jobs now?” asked Ali.

Ali. Photo: Sahid Faris/Maktoob

He added, “A developed nation is determined by three factors: its state of civil services, healthcare system, and agriculture, and we all are well aware of the state of all these sectors. Farmers are being killed on the roads, healthcare is very evident, and you can see railways, where people are stuffed into trains beyond their capacity.”

However, Ali said that the politics of polarization furthered by the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi doesn’t work in their region as it is the most secular constituency.

He said, “We drink water from the ghats where once Ram and Rahim lived and grew up together; we still do. No Hindu-Muslim politics can work here.”

Kaleem Tabish, who works in a loom, was going to buy milk for his 2-year-old child and stopped by to say that elections should be fought only on the issue of inflation, as everyone is so deeply affected by this one issue.

He was certain that it should be the major focus for the elections, politicians, and legislators, after the government is formed. He said, “Tomorrow if I get my son admitted to the school, it alone will cost me more than 6000 rupees. So where should I put my money, in educating my child or in running my everyday life?”

“With each passing day, the burden of inflation weighs heavier, and no matter how much I earn, it is always less than what I need to buy, forget about wants. It impacts the livelihood and aspirations of a citizen and voter like me, and with this, we will vote for the one who promises and ensures a more stable future and smooth life,” Tabish said.

Kaleem Tabish, who works in a loom, was going to buy milk for his 2-year-old child and stopped by to say that elections should be fought only on the issue of inflation, as everyone is so deeply affected by this one issue. Photo: Sahid Faris/Maktoob

About Ansari, he said, “We have a lot of respect for him. I could never meet him, but he was a good man. He used to help people beyond his capacity and was not a ‘goonda’ like the media says.”

In Khiribagh, a busy market area in Mau, Vakeel Ahmed, secretary of the Congress Committee in the town, said, “We are now focused on the country’s prosperity and development. The major issues are unemployment, education, and all-time high prices of everything, which are increasing every day.” 

He said that the government should change at all costs because, “The country doesn’t run on religion, caste, Hindu-Muslim, Mandir-Masjid; it runs on development.”

Ahmed praised the Bharat Jodo Yatra of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and said that he also walked along with thousands of people who look forward to a better India and change. He also accused Mayawati, the Bahujan Samaj Party supremo, of “siding with the BJP” for not being a part of the INDIA alliance.

Ahmed is unimpressive when discussing Mukhtar Ansari. “They didn’t do much for the region,” he said, although he rejects the media portrayal of Ansari as a mafia and gangster.

“Messiah-roof to a Home”

While walking on the streets in the town, apart from the clinging sounds of the power loom machines, another word you will repeatedly hear is ‘messiah’, which has now become a synonym for Mukhtar Ansari.

It is noteworthy that Purvanchal, a belt in Uttar Pradesh, includes places like Kaashi (Varanasi), Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, and Ajay Singh Bisht, aka Yogi Adityanath, in Gorakhpur, with Narendra Modi as perceived factors that radicalize the Hindu community and further the agenda of a Hindu Rashtra. This is topped with structural Islamophobia and continuous propaganda run by the media. Given these circumstances, what made Mukhtar a messiah for these people even after he is no longer among them?

Aman is a recent postgraduate from Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi but is now working to run his family business of weaving sarees because “there are no job opportunities in the country and the state.”

Remembering Mukhtar Ansari, Aman said, “If one repeatedly calls someone a mafia, will they become one? For us, he was a torchbearer, he was like a roof to a home. Now that he is gone, we feel shelterless, we feel roofless.”

He added, “If he is not there, his family will be there for the people, like Mukhtar Ansari was always there. He is a messiah to us.” 

Aman believes that the present government has more or less “killed” everyone, with Muslims suffering due to Islamophobia, hate, and mob lynching, while others have died of other factors.

He said, “Muslims are being killed because of their identity, but no one is spared; the poor die because of corruption, price hikes, and starvation. So in this government, everyone is dying.” 

He said that people have now made up their minds to go ahead with Rahul Gandhi and that they see a bright and easier future with the INDIA alliance.

“The BJP government has wasted 10 years in the Union government and 7 years in UP, and is only running on loot and lies. They did not work, and this is enough of a reason for them to leave power, and we see it coming on June 4,” said Aman confidently.

Another voter in Chittanpura, Fayyaz Ahmad, said that elections are held every 5 years to choose a government that works for its citizens, but the last decade proved to be the opposite of what a democracy should look like.

He said, “This government offers no respite for the weaver community, educated youth, women, or any other community in the country. It has only tightened its grip on small-scale businesses, youth are becoming jobless, and inflation has become a life-challenging aspect of our everyday life.”

“Policymakers in the government have ignored the working class and the poor of the community as if they don’t exist. Everyone is just done with the government. It has become a constant struggle to run a family for a month, and if you particularly talk about Mau, we haven’t received anything from the government. The ration card facility can no longer be availed by Below Poverty Line families, and rising rates of everything make it inevitable for us to go and vote against the BJP,” said Fayaz Ahmad. 

He added, “We will also urge community members to vote for the INDIA aliance because that’s the option we see.”

Profoundly remembering Mukhtar Ansari, he said, “He was ghareeb parwar (advocate of the poor). Anyone who went to his door never came back empty-handed.”

When asked that he was called a gangster and mafia by the media, he touched his ear and asked, “If I call this a nose, will you believe it? You are here; it’s his region. Talk to people here and you will know if he was a gangster or a messiah.”

He added, “His death is not going to make any changes to his status, his influence, or his family’s position among the masses. He will be remembered as a messiah.”

Thirteen remaining constituencies in Eastern UP are set to vote in the last phase of Lok Sabha elections on June 1st, 2024 including Ghosi, Ghazipur and Varanasi.

To gauge the public mood in Ghazipur, Maktoob reached Saidpur Bhitari Village in the district, where people in numbers, mainly men from various faiths of several nearby villages, were gathered and waiting for their ‘leader’ to come and address them.

Afsal Ansari. Photo: Sahid Faris/Maktoob

“Their leader” is Afzal Ansari, the elder brother of Mukhtar Ansari, a five-time MLA from Mohammadabad Assembly seat and a two-time elected Member of Parliament from Ghazipur.

The local sentiment on the ground was not in support of any party, but for them, the Ansaris themselves are a party.

A voter, when asked whom they were there to support, said, “Afzal Ansari. We don’t know any party; we have been voting for the Ansaris and will vote for them. They have been helping people on the ground; parties come and go, but these people remain.”

Afzal won the seat for the Samajwadi Party in 2004 and for the Bahujan Samaj Party in 2019. He is now seeking a third term on a Samajwadi Party ticket.

Afzal is contesting against Parasnath Rai of the BJP and Umesh Singh of the BSP, who voters call “unfamiliar faces because their public interaction is negligible.”

Rai, now 69, is a four-decade-old functionary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and has been the long-time electoral manager for Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.

As Afzal Ansari reached the playground of Saidpur Bhitari village, he was welcomed by the people with slogans like ‘Afzal Ansari zindabad’, ‘Mukhtar Ansari zindabad’, and ‘Samajwad zindabad.’

In his hour-long address, Ansari did not use the death of his brother, Mukhtar Ansari, to woo votes. His speech was concise, clear, and empathetic, focusing on the people’s needs and carrying a vision for the future. Unlike Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the language used by him was inclusive and respectful, and the audience connected and applauded after each statement.

Speaking to Maktoob in a detailed interview, Afzal Ansari’s words about his brother were, “The man who was portrayed by the media as a gangster, mafia, and don left the world as a messiah. People remember him as a messiah. It’s there for everyone to see.”

We spoke at length with Afzal Ansari about his political career, changing political parties, allegations against his brother, his death, the Ansari family’s influence in the region, and more.

The full interview will be published shortly.

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