Yogi toils to ensure saffron win on home turf

Yogi toils to ensure saffron win on home turf

When Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath told the electorate at a rally here that it was he and not Upendra Shukla, the BJP nominee, who was contesting the elections, he was only underlining the importance of Lok Sabha bypoll from Gorakhpur, his home turf, the result of which could well set the tone for the bigger battle ahead in 2019.

For Adityanath, who was also the 'mahant' (head) of the famous and revered Gorakhnath Temple here, the forthcoming electoral battle is a matter of prestige and he has taken it upon himself to ensure that saffron reign continues in the constituency.

Upendra Shukla is not from the Gorakhnath temple. His candidature may have ended a 29-year-long relationship between the Gorakhpur LS constituency and the temple, but for many in the town and elsewhere, 'Maharaj ji' (as Yogi is addressed here) still calls the shots here.

"Whoever contests from Gorakhpur, people vote on the directions of the temple," says Avinash Upadhyaya, a resident of Kuraghat in the town.

Adityanath's rivals agree only partially. "It's not the same this time. Neither Adityanath nor any representative of the temple is in the fray in this polls," says Samajwadi Party candidate Praveen Nishad.

Even a section of local BJP leaders admits that the saffron party will win the seat hands down if someone from the temple is in the fray. There are also murmurs in the BJP that Shukla does not have good relations with Adityanath.

The BSP's decision to support the Samajwadi Party has only complicated the matter for BJP and Adityanath knows it well. No wonder he has been attacking the undeclared alliance with all his might.

Adityanath had secured over 51% votes in 2014 LS polls and won by more than three lakh votes. Even the combined vote share of BSP-SP was a little over 38%.

In the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls in four of the five segments of LS constituency, the combined vote share of SP-BSP was, however, much more than BJP's.

Caste equations

As is elsewhere, caste equations are likely to play an important role. The Nishad (boatmen) community numbers around four lakh, the biggest electoral bloc here, and a majority of them are likely to back SP nominee Sanjay Nishad, though the BJP claims otherwise.

Yadavs, who number around 1.6 lakh, are also likely to root for the SP. The 1.5 lakh Muslim votes may be split as the Congress has fielded a Muslim candidate in Dr Surhita Kareem, though local analysts say the community will support a candidate who is in a better position to defeat the BJP.

The Congress does not seem to be a factor here. Its nominees have lost their security deposits in the six previous Lok Sabha polls.  

Rural challenge

While the BJP enjoys overwhelming support in the city, it will face the real challenge in the rural areas of Pipraich, Sahjanwan and others.  

The declaration of support by some smaller caste-based outfits like the Peace Party and Nishad Party is also a cause of worry for the BJP here. In fact, the caste equations here have prompted the BJP to field a Brahmin as it does not want to "annoy" the 1.5 lakh Brahmins in the constituency. The BJP had made Shiv Pratap Shukla, considered to be a rival of Yogi in Gorakhpur, a union minister after Adityanath's anointment as chief minister to placate Brahmins.

"The BJP may be in trouble if the BSP is able to transfer its votes to the SP," says Rakesh Nishad, a resident of Pipraich.

Realising the importance of the battle, Adityanath has been campaigning aggressively here. He has so far addressed around a dozen rallies and has plans to address more.

The polling is scheduled for March 11.

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