On the banks of the Ganga, this time people are seeking political salvation, forgiving murderers of their own kin and joining hands across gangs.

Many years ago, the poet and philosopher Saint Kabir had commented about Banaras:

Raand, Saand, Seedhi, Sanyasi – Inse bache, to sebe Kasi!

“Hustlers, bulls, stairs and the mendicants…These are the common things found in Kashi. By escaping them, one can attain salvation”!

512px Ganges River bank Varanasi Ganga and the Ganglord!
Kashi or Varanasi, at the confluence of two rivers Varuna and Assi, is perhaps the oldest city under the sun, in its continuous form. In 1897, Mark Twain wrote in his travelogue ‘Following the Equator’: “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

This eternal city gives one Moksha, the eternal Salvation, in popular belief. But in this summer of 2014, people big or small, are seeking their political salvation in the holy city on the banks of river Ganga!

Apart from the haloed Prime Ministerial candidate, who says, he has been summoned by the ‘Ganga Maaiya’ here, there is the Ramon Magsaysay Award winner, Ford Foundation cherished, political miracle man! And of course, there is one of the ‘local elements’, whose party affiliation is so fragile and changing, but you can always count him, because he has the power- the muscle power!

Hamara Neta Kaisa Ho!

Bismillah Khan’s family plays Shehnai for him in the road show. In the scorching sun, he appears in a safa, a local head cover and people confuse him with Mukhtar’s brother Afzal Ansari.

But the man Ajay Rai is satisfied. At last Rahul Gandhi came to Varanasi and ‘threw his weight behind him.” Rai claims that he has the blessings of the Congress “High Command!” Speculations are ripe that Priyanka Gandhi herself approved Rai’s candidature. Rai reportedly met Priyanka at the 12, Tughlaq Lane residence of Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, in Delhi, seeking her approval.

“Priyankaji ne to khud mera peeth thok kar Varanasi mein Modi ke khilaf ladne bheja hai. Mein to unhi ke adesh par yehan se chunav lad raha hun (Ms. Priyanka Gandhi herself asked me to fight against Narendra Modi from Varanasi and here, I am just following her instruction),” Rai told to the press.

In the Ghats around Assi or to be precise, at the now famous, Pappu Tea Stall (An affable man in his mid-fifties, Vishwanath Singh, nicknamed Pappu, owns this stall), the topic of discussion is that in the absence of Ansari, the Muslim votes of Varanasi are going for Arvind Kejriwal. Also there is news that some religious leaders are advising the Muslims to vote for Kejriwal!

So Rahul Gandhi, in his much expected Varanasi road show, on April 10, drove through mainly Muslim dominated areas of the city: Adampura, Pilikothi, Maidagin, Beniyabagh, Madanpuraor, Sonarpura, accompanied by Bollywood star-turned-politicians like Nagma and Raj Babbar. Ghulam Navi Azad was already there, having being stationed in the city for quite some time now.

The Man and His Mission

Ajay Rai, the Congress candidate has an impressive track record, of being the five-time MLA (with three different parties and once as an independent). It’s widely known that he is a powerful man, long involved in a lot of controversial activities. According to the affidavit filed, Varanasi’s Congress candidate Ajay Rai is facing nine criminal charges and two of them are under the gangster Act. There are three cases which are connected with attempt to murder charges slapped on him in neighbouring Mughalsarai and Chetganj locality of the city.

Ajay Rai’s name first got into in police files in the year 1991 when the Mafia leader Brijesh Singh’s gang attacked Varanasi Deputy Mayor Anil Singh. In the year 1994, his brother and strongman of eastern Uttar Pradesh Awadhesh Rai was killed allegedly by his challenging a gang led by Mukhtar Ansari. This happening triggered a long bloody gang war in Varanasi and adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh.

Rai was charged under IPC 307 (attempt to murder) and IPC 147 (rioting), in1994. Rai was also booked under the Gangster Act, in the year 1995, and consequently tried by a Special Court in Chandauli. In another case under IPC 307, against Rai in 2011, he was granted bail by a court in Mirzapur, his affidavit says.

Rai’s political journey started in the year 1996 when BJP fielded him against the legendry CPI leader Udal from Kolasala Assembly constituency. Rai was re-elected from the seat in the 2002 and 2007 elections. He had joined the Samajwadi Party in the year 2009, when BJP denied him a ticket from Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency and fielded their senior leader, Murli Manohar Joshi. Contesting as a Samajwadi Party candidate, Rai got 18.6% of votes from Varanasi constituency. He was the third, just behind M.M.Joshi and BSP’s Mukhtar Ansari. In fact Joshi’s unimpressive margin against Ansari was due to the Rai factor. He got 1,23,874 votes, despite switching the party.

He himself is a Bhumihar and he holds some influence over the Bhumihar-Brahmin community. There are around 1.80 lakh Bhumihar voters inVaranasi LS constituency. Rai says that he is the only prominent local candidate in the fray. Modi and Kejriwal are just the outsiders. But technically speaking, he represents the Pindra Assembly constituency and it is well perceived that Rai really works hard in his constituencies. But this seat is out of Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency. It falls in the Macchlisahar Lok Sabha segment. Though he stays in a heavily guarded, sprawling mansion in the Pishach Mochan locality of Varanasi, he is originally from Ghazipur. But, it’s also a fact that he’s the only one among the main contenders whom the city’s voters actually know.

Gangster+Gangster =Secularism!

After a detailed parleying, the Gangster turned politician Mukhtar Ansari, contesting the Ghosi seat in Mau as a Quami Ekta Dal candidate, withdrew his candidature from Varanasi and decided to support Rai. The decision however has not gone down well with the Bhumihar community. Ansari is an accused in the murder of prominent community leader and BJP Legislator Krishnanand Rai on 29 November 2005. Many are too surprised by the deal, as Ansari is also an accused in the murder of Ajay Rai’s elder brother Awadhesh! In fact, Awadhesh’s widow, Ajai Rai’s sister-in-law is now campaigning for BJP. She is saying that Ajay joining hands with Mukhtar has not only betrayed his brother’s memory but also lost the community’s trust!

The Mafia war in Eastern UP is the long standing enmity between Mukhtar Ansari and Brajesh Singh who were fighting for control over the region’s hugely profitable thekedari -Contract Work Mafia, amounting to several hundred crore a year. This racket, operating in the areas in eastern UP and Bihar, involves various activities like PWD Constructions, Railway Constructions, Coal Mines, Big Scale Scrap business, as well as lucrative Liquor business. The gangs are also in the activities of rampant extortion, kidnapping, and regular extraction of protection money from the local businessmen. It started in the early eighties. Mukhtar Ansari initially worked under Makhanu Singh’s gang, while Brajesh Singh was with the Sahib Singh gang. To consolidate his position further, Mukhtar Ansari entered politics in 1995.

In the year 2001 Brajesh Singhgroup ambushed Ansari’s entourage on the Mau-Lucknow highway, when, Ansari lost three of his key companions. Brajesh Singh was critically injured. Mukhtar Ansari started reigning on the bad land of Purvanchal. But within a year Brajesh Singh started to reclaim areas around Mau-Ghazipur region. Krishnanand Rai entered the scene when he fought for the Mohammadabad Assembly constituency in the 2002 elections and ultimately clinched it. It was rumoured that Brajesh Singh himself financed Rai’s campaign. He had defeated the five-term MLA, Afzal Ansari, the elder brother of Mukhtar Ansari. Mukhtar Ansari even claimed that Krishnanand Rai and Brajesh Singh were jointly plotting to kill him!

The killing of Krishnanand Rai on November 29, 2005, turned the political scenario, and divided the Mafia war on the communal lines. Ajai Rai, also from the community was politically sympathetic to Krishnanand Rai. He was also in the same party, BJP. After Krishnanand Rai’s murder and in the political void, Ajay Rai undoubtedly emerged as the key Bhumihar leader, in eastern UP. He played a pivotal role in anti-Mukhtar Ansari politics in the area. Ajay is now saying that it was a dictum of Congress High Command. Also his brother’s murder case is still sub-judice! And he himself has never sought Ansari’s support!

Rai and Mukhtar’s animosity date backs from the 1991 daylight murder of his brother Awadesh Rai. The trial is still pending in a local court. But people are saying that, Ajay, a prime witness in the case, did not show up in court when it was being heard. Is the enmity a close chapter now? Or is he eying a sizeable vote share of Varanasi’s 3, 00,000 voting Muslim population for his political gain! And what Mukhtar Ansari’s party, Qaumi Ekta Dal, had to say?

“We may not have had the best of relations with each other, but it was important for secular forces to come together to defeat Modi, and therefore we are supporting Ajay Rai”.

It’s all about secularism, dude!

By Deep Basu

Also See:
Heat and Dust Of The 2014 Election
Why AK may upset NaMo apple cart in Varanasi?

Image Source: By Jeeheon Cho from Surat Thani, Thailand (Varanasi River BankUploaded by Ekabhishek) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Video Source: Times Now@YouTube

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