Narrow lanes lead to mafioso-politician Mukhtar Ansari's sprawling house. He is in jail, from where he is fighting the Ghosi Lok Sabha seat, while his brother Afzal Ansari has just left in his white Pajero for Ballia, where he is contesting from.
A guard dressed in a black uniform greets visitors, waving the green flag of the Quami Ekta Dal (QED), founded by the Ansari brothers in 2010. Inside, the living room displays a row of framed photographs, including that of Mahatma Gandhi and some other leaders, offering a glimpse into the Ansari family's political history which began with Mukhtar's great grandfather participating in the freedom struggle.
Ansari's party is angry with the Samajwadi Party government for "not allowing" Mukhtar to campaign in Ghosi despite getting parole from the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court for May 1 to May 10. His party said he was brought till Azamgarh on the night of May 9, a day before the last day of campaigning, but there were so many security checks on the way to Mau district, in which Ghosi falls, that by the time he reached there in the evening, the deadline to end campaigning had already elapsed.
"At first, the state did not allow him to be released from Agra jail. Its because Azamgarh, from where Mulayam Singh Yadav is fighting the election, is near Ghosi," said QED president Misbah Uddin Ahmed.
Another UP strongman DP Yadav, whose Rashtriya Parivartan Dal along with QED is part of a front called "Ekta Manch", is contesting from neighbouring Ghazipur.
Mukhtar, who is the fourth generation of the Ansari family to join politics, has been in jail for nine years for the murder of Krishnanand Rai, a BJP MLA. Krishnanand was the brother of Ajay Rai, the Congress candidate from Varanasi. In Mukhtar's absence, his supporters work on directions he gives them from prison.
In their town, the Ansaris are more "messiah" than mafia. At a dhaba, where people have gathered for tea, Javed Khan said the Ansaris helped him get a loan to open a motor parts shop. "If you have any problem or need medical treatment, he will help you," he said. Another inhabitant of Mohammadabad, Kedarnath Singh, said Afzal is not perceived as a desperado here.
BJP workers in Ballia, who exuded confidence that their candidate Bharat Singh will win, claimed that Afzal, a four-time MLA, could come second in the race. The seat, from where SP's incumbent MP Neeraj Shekhar is contesting, has been held by his father Chandrashekhar since 1977, except in 1984 when the Congress won it.
The BJP is hoping to avenge two old foes — Chandrashekhar, who had voted against the BJP when the Vajpayee government fell by one vote, and the Ansaris this time around. The party is banking on a "Modi wave" and a split in SP and QED votes.
Dismissing a Modi wave, UP minister Ambika Chaudhury said Neeraj was popular while Afzal was fighting a Parliament election for the first time. "The criminal history of the Ansaris creates not just fear but also an illusion in the minds of people," he said.
It was in Ballia that BJP's PM candidate Narendra Modi, who is contesting from Varanasi, held his last rally for the 2014 election. Mukhtar had withdrawn from the contest in Varanasi, where he had lost to BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi in 2009 by just 17,000 votes, to avoid a split in the anti-Modi vote and decided to extend support to the Congress. However, this has upset Krishnanand's widow Alka, and the Bhumihars, who have turned against the Congress.