In 2020, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath said the “dark empire” of gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari was nearing an end. At that time, the state police were filing case after case against the five-time legislator and his family.

Cut to 2023: Adityanath and Ansari are perilously close to being on the same side in next year’s Lok Sabha election, thanks to the Bharatiya Janata Party renewing its alliance with the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party.

Mukhtar Ansari’s son Abbas Ansari represents the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party in the Uttar Pradesh assembly. Ansari senior is also believed to share close ties with Om Prakash Rajbhar, who heads the party that has a base in eastern Uttar Pradesh. In 2021, Rajbhar once went to the extent of saying that Ansari was being singled out by the Adityanath government because of his religion.

Convicted of murder earlier this year, Ansari represented Mau constituency in eastern Uttar Pradesh from 1996 to 2022. Two of the five terms were as a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate. In 2022, Abbas Ansari took up the mantle, contesting and winning on a ticket from Rajbhar’s party.

In December, however, after Abbas Ansari was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate for a money laundering case, Rajbhar distanced himself from the family. But he did not suspend Abbas Ansari from the party.

As things stand now, Abbas Ansari is a legislator of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, which is set to contest the 2024 general election under the umbrella of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

Om Prakash Rajbhar (left) with Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Sunday. Photo: Twitter/ Amit Shah

Given the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party’s formidable presence in several districts in Uttar Pradesh’s eastern region, the partnership may help the BJP gain ground in areas where it had suffered significant setbacks in last year’s assembly election.

Even so, the optics of allying with a party whose legislator the BJP has long attacked as being part of large-scale organised crime has not been lost on people in Uttar Pradesh. The prospect of Mukhtar Ansari and Adityanath being on the same side – even if with a degree of separation – has generated much discussion, particularly in the light of the chief minister’s persistent characterisation of the Ansari family as the embodiment of evil.

In recent years, principles have rarely posed a hurdle to BJP’s search for useful political alliances.

Earlier this month, in Maharashtra, the party brought to its fold a faction of the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra led by Ajit Pawar whom the party has routinely attacked as corrupt. Another key leader of the NCP renegades, Praful Patel, was the object of many attacks by the BJP, including for allegedly having close ties with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.

Not too long back, in March, the BJP renewed its alliance with the National Peoples’ Party in Meghalaya, after a rough patch, which included a bitterly fought assembly election. Ahead of the election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had accused NPP chief Conrad Sangma of “ruining” the state.

But after the BJP was routed in the election, it decided to ally with the Conrad Sangma-led outfit, in order to be part of the government.

The BJP’s hunger for electoral success means compromises are par for the course. But those who follow politics in Uttar Pradesh would attest that Adityanath’s conflict with Ansari, which goes back several years, is deep-seated and personal. One can only wonder if those old differences would be set aside now that they may have to play on the same side as Team Modi.