Some are dons, others sitting MLAs. While some are running the show from jail, others are looking to forge alliances with political bigwigs. The bahubalis of Uttar Pradesh are also in preparation mode as the 2022 assembly elections inch closer. From the east end of the state to the western part, these bahubalis, or strongmen, are influential irrespective of political leanings and, hence, are gearing up to test their political mettle.

Don Mukhtar Ansari is a top name among these strongmen, and enjoys massive clout in the Purvanchal region. This time, Ansari is said to be preparing to contest the polls from inside prison. His winning streak from Mau may just hold him in good stead, as he is expected to contest from the seat again. There is speculation that Ansari will either contest as a candidate from Omprakash Rajbhar’s party Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), which recently allied with the Samajwadi Party, or he may contest as an independent.

His brother Sigbatullah Ansari, on the other hand, recently switched over to the SP from the BSP. But it is being said Akhilesh Yadav will not field him a ticket due to the “bahubali” image of the Ansari family. Another sibling, Afzal Ansari, is the BSP MP from Ghazipur.

The second spot in the list goes to Ateeq Ahmad, who was once influential in Prayagraj and adjoining districts. It is not yet clear, however, if Ateeq will contest the polls. It is expected that his wife Shaista Parveen may contest in his place. A few days ago, she joined Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, so preparations are on to field her from Prayagraj (south) from where Ateeq has been an MLA five times.

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Another name in the limelight is of don-turned-politician Dhananjay Singh’s, who is expected to contest from Malhani seat of Jaunpur. Although he carries a reward of Rs 25,000 on his head, sources said he might be soon reaching out to the people of his constituency. There is a buzz in Jaunpur that Dhananjay can contest the elections on a ticket from one of the BJP allies like Apna Dal (S) or NISHAD. With this, he will also get the support of the BJP. In the panchayat elections this year, his wife Srikala Reddy became the district panchayat president. The BJP had given this seat to the Apna Dal, whose candidate voted for Reddy.

Next is strongman Abhay Singh, an MLA from Ayodhya’s Gosaiganj assembly. Sources said Singh was looking forward to trying his luck from this seat in the upcoming elections. Abhay has been quite active lately, and it is being expected that the SP might put their faith in him again and field him in the elections.

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Then comes in strongman Jitendra Singh Bablu, who is the BSP MLA from Ayodhya’s Bikapur assembly and had recently joined the BJP. But after protests from BJP MP Rita Bahuguna Joshi, the party had to show him the door. Bablu has been accused of burning down Joshi’s house. At present, while preparing for the elections from Bikapur seat, he is trying to get a ticket from BJP ally Apna Dal. This way, he will also get the support of the BJP.

In Sultanpur district, Sonu-Monu enjoy a good following. Chandrabhadra Singh alias Sonu has been a BSP MLA from Isauli seat. At present, he is lodged in jail but his brother Yashbhadra Singh alias Monu is campaigning fiercely. It is likely that Sonu will contest the elections from inside the jail on a BSP ticket.

Next comes in Sushil Singh, an MLA from Chandauli. Sushil, the nephew of don Brajesh Singh, is not very influential in the world of strongmen but cannot be looked over due to his relations. It is expected that he will once again contest from Chandauli on a BJP ticket.

Six-time MLA from Kunda in Pratapgarh Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya has won the elections since 1993 as an independent, but this time it is expected that he will contest on a ticket from his own political outfit Jansatta Dal (Democratic). Raja Bhaiya formed the party in 2018.

Talking of Badaun, the one name that crops up is that of DP Yadav’s, who is expected to contest from Sahaswan seat. The buzz in Badaun is that Yadav is trying to forge an alliance of his party, Rashtriya Parivartan Dal, with the BJP. His nephew, Jitendra Yadav, is in the BJP while Jitendra’s wife Varsha is the president of the district panchayat. There is a possibility that some formula will come out during the assembly elections. Yadav has already been in SP, BSP, Congress and BJP. He was a minister in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s government and, in 2014, shared the stage with union home minister Amit Shah.

The next name in the list is Indra Pratap Tiwari’s. Better known as Khabbu Tiwari, who is a BJP MLA from Gosaiganj seat of Ayodhya district, he is currently in jail. He has been sentenced to three years and cannot contest elections as of now, but there is speculation that someone close to him might be fielded with his support on the Gosaiganj seat.

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