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Lok Sabha polls: In Gorakhpur, caste equations set to complicate matters for BJP; challenge to Yogi Adityanath's dominance, say experts

Gorakhpur: The Gorakhpur constituency in Uttar Pradesh has been considered a BJP stronghold since 1991. However, the 2019 general election might not be a cakewalk for any political party, especially the BJP.

The Gorakhnath Mutt (a temple of the Nath community) has a big influence on the constituency. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath is the mahant (head priest) of the Mutt. This time round, Adityanath's former aide Sunil Singh has also entered the fray to contest polls from Gorakhpur. He floated his own party: the Hindu Yuva Vahini Bharat.

 Lok Sabha polls: In Gorakhpur, caste equations set to complicate matters for BJP; challenge to Yogi Adityanaths dominance, say experts

File photo of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. ANI

The BJP has fielded Bhojpuri star Ravi Kishan Shukla from this constituency. The contest looked like a win-win for the Gathbandhan till a few weeks ago, when the Nishad Party of Dr Sanjay Nishad left the alliance and joined the BJP. Nishad apparently demanded five seats for his party, but was denied by the Samajwadi Party (SP). Congress has fielded Madhusudan Tiwari from the seat.

Speaking to the media, Praveen Nishad, MP from Gorakhpur stated that the Nishad Party would not settle for less. “We have been obeying netaji (Akhilesh Yadav) for the last two years. We are not anyone’s servant. It is okay that their's is a bigger party and we are small, but we defeated the BJP in the 2018 bypolls. We will never compromise on our prestige,” he said.

Rakesh Tripathi, BJP's Uttar Pradesh spokesperson stated that MP Praveen Nishad joined the BJP after being influenced by the party's leaders. "They joined us after being influenced by our governance and leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party gave them the ticket for the Santkabir Nagar constituency. The BJP believes in 'sabka saath sabka vikas,' that's why other political parties are also keen to enter into an alliance with the BJP or are joining our party. Many leaders have joined the BJP in the last two months," said Tripathi.

Not everyone is happy about this development. Social activist Vimlesh Nigam said, "As a public representative, he should have thought before joining the BJP that it was the public who voted him to power. Doing such things for political gain is nothing less than a breach of trust of the voters."

Experts say the battle for Gorakhpur is crucial for the BJP and hence the party took a long time to finalise a candidate. Uttar Pradesh political analyst Rudra Pratap Dubey said, “SP fielded its former minister Ram Bhuwal Nishad. Sunil, who was Adityanath's right hand and the strongest leader of Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) is also contesting against the BJP. The BJP seems to have been caught on the back foot and are facing tough competition.” He added, "BJP's prestige is at stake because this seat has been with the party since 1991. They lost for the first time to Nishad Party in 2018. Besides, Sunil played a critical role in building support for Adityanath on ground, and people in the constituency are familiar with him.”

Manoj Kumar Singh, a political observer, stated that the only poll agenda for Gorakhpur residents is the Mutt and/or Adityanath. “The Mutt and the Gorakhnath temple have always had a strong hold over this constituency. Before Adityanath, his guru Mahant Awaidya Nath represented this seat in Parliament. Development and other issues have not played a role in Gorakhpur elections. If it was about the issues,  then the deteriorating healthcare infrastructure or damage caused by floods would have gained attention. Gorakhpur has always voted on the basis of caste and for the Mutt,” Singh explained.

Spotlight on Nishad, Dalit and Muslim voters

In the March 2018 by-elections, Gorakhpur elected Praveen Nishad, a candidate from the little-known Nishad Party. Praveen is the son of the party chief and contested the elections on an SP ticket. The Nishad community is the most dominant group in Gorakhpur and comprise 23 percent of the population, about 4.5 lakh of the constituency's population of around 19.5 lakh voters.

The caste equation in the region stands at around 3.5 lakh Muslims, 1.5 lakh Dalits (Paswan), 2 lakh Kshatriyas, 2 lakh Yadavs, 1.5 lakh Brahmins, 2 lakh Saithwars and less than 1 lakh Vaishyas and Bhumihars.

Professor RR Jha of the Political Science department at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) said the general election would be the most keenly contested polls in Gorakhpur and a test for the chief minister. “Everything is at stake for Adityanath because he did not take a lot of interest in the 2018 bypolls when tickets were distributed without consulting him. This time, the BJP is doing a lot of brainstorming over the issue of choosing the right candidate, taking into consideration the chief minister's choice and the caste equations,” he said. “Forget Raebareli, Varanasi or any other VIP constituency. This time, Gorakhpur and Amethi are the hot seats.”

Gorakhpur-based senior journalist Manish Pandey believes the contest is going to be interesting because the BJP has fielded a Brahmin candidate which may not go down well with the Thakurs or Kshatriyas. "If you look at the history of Gorakhpur you will find that the Thakurs and Brahmins are always at loggerheads. Adityanath is a Kshatriyas and Brahmins were not happy with his candidature. Another interesting point is that the chief minister still holds the key to Gorakhpur because he shifted sitting MP Praveen Nishad to Santkabir Nagar. The chief minister did not do much in the last by-elections for the BJP candidate because he was not his first choice," said Pandey.

Adityanath's hold on Gorakhpur

Adityanath fought the first Lok Sabha elections from Gorakhpur in 1998 and was contesting against Yamuna Prasad Nishad of the Samajwadi Party (SP). Adityanath won that election with a margin of 26,206 votes. In 2004, he again contested against Prasad and the victory margin increased to 1,43,309 votes. In 2009, Adityanath defeated Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) Vinay Shankar Tiwari with 22,000 votes and in 2014, he defeated Rajmathi Nishad of SP with a vote margin of over 3 lakh votes.

Gorakhpur is going to the polls in the seventh and last phase of the Lok Sabha elections on 19 May.

Author is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com

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Updated Date: Apr 26, 2019 18:15:17 IST