As soon as Alka Rai steps out of the SUV, her supporters start chanting. “Alka nahin chingari hai, veer purush ki naari hai (It’s not Alka but a spark, the woman of a brave man).” Rai, 57, makes a brief speech to the small crowd of villagers, saying she is one of them and the election is her maan-samman ki ladaai (fight for respect and dignity). In the election to Mohammadabad, the context is in what happened over a decade ago. Alka’s husband Krishnanand Rai, BJP MLA, was murdered along with six others in Ghazipur in November 2005. The CBI later charged gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari with planning the murder. Ansari’s brother Sibgatullah is the two-term sitting MLA and now the BSP candidate.
Watch what else is making news
Alka Rai, who had won the 2006 byelection following the murder, lost in 2007 to Sibgatullah, then the Samajwadi Party candidate. Rai’s return after a decade has made the election, in the words of a BJP worker, naak ki ladai (a fight for self-respect) for the party, which is hoping to break new ground in Ghazipur where it has struggled for a decade. BJP chief Amit Shah held a roadshow for Alka Rai Friday. Although the murder is no longer the theme, Sibgatullah, the eldest Ansari brother, is being seen as vulnerable. Last election, his victory was seen as the result of a division of votes among three Bhumihar candidates.
The seat has been held by the Ansari family since 1985, except between 2002 and 2007, when Krishnanand and then Alka represented it. Before Sibgatullah won in 2007, the seat had been held by Afzal, the second Ansari brother, from 1985 to 2002. Rai says the constituency has seen “no development” under the Ansari family. “My husband’s murder is a separate matter. That is being fought in court. But there has been no development here. There are still only the roads built during the time of Vidhayakji (Krishnanand),” she tells The Indian Express.
“I did whatever work I could as an MLA but I was not a ruling party MLA,” says Sibgatullah, 64, at the family’s ancestral house in Mohammadabad. “When Afzal was the MP (2004-2009), he got 100 km roads built under PMGSY. No roads have been built since then, no schools sanctioned under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in the last three years.” He admits the election is tougher this time, but also feels he is better placed with a BSP ticket than he was last time, as a nominee of the family’s Quami Ekta Dal. “The election here is not on party lines but about defeating me. This time the SP is also among those trying to defeat us,” he says.
The SP has given the seat to the Congress, whose candidate Janak Kushwaha is not as high-profile as the other two. The constituency has about 25,000 Muslims but most of the support for the Ansaris comes from backward-caste Hindus. “Mukhtar helps anyone who goes to him. If a poor person tells him he has no money for his daughter’s wedding, he will ensure that everything required is delivered at his home,” says a trader in Mohammadabad. The election is also being seen as a test for the public image of Mukhtar, in jail for over a decade.
“We always get support from all Hindu castes and will this time too. We can never win with just Muslim votes. Our opponents though always try to make the election a Hindu versus Muslim issue,” says Sibgatullah. Besides Sibgatullah, his son Mannu and brother Afzal are visiting villages to woo voters. Afzal held eight meetings Friday, six Saturday and seven Sunday. The upper castes including Bhumihars, the caste to which Rai belongs, appear to be consolidating to an extent behind the BJP. But the backward castes hold the key.
Yadavs, about 40,000, are being seen as the deciding factor — if they ignore the Congress nominee. BJP workers are telling Yadavs that the Ansaris have promised to “finish” Akhilesh Yadav in politics. “All calculations depend on Yadav support,” agrees Sibgatullah. Rai too claims she has the support of the Yadavs. “Yeh dharm aur adharma ke beech ki ladaai hai (this is a fight for dharma). I have support from all parties and all people. The Yadavs, Rajbhars, all castes and communities are supporting me,” she says. “As of now, we cannot say he (Sibgatullah) will lose but we cannot say he will win either,” says Gulab Gupta, a trader who identifies himself as BJP supporter.