Byelections to Gorakhpur and Phulpur parliamentary constituencies, necessitated because Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy chief minister Keshav Pradesh Maurya resigned from their respective Lok Sabha constituencies last year, will take place on Sunday. It will be the first political test for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh since winning India's most populous state by a record margin exactly a year ago.
Results of the byelections will prove whether Adityanath's pick as chief minister, a controversial choice given the BJP leader's history of communal speeches and hardline Hindutva position, will be vindicated. Victory for the BJP's candidates in the bypolls would mean the electorate is still firmly behind the saffron party, that one-year of Adityanath's rule hasn't dented the party's popularity.
However, if the Samajwadi Party or the Congress manage to pip BJP to the spot, the Opposition is certain to claim electorate in Uttar Pradesh is eager to see a change and is already tiring of the polarising nature of the Adityanath government.
As reported by The Hindu, the Congress is already painting the bypolls as a referendum on Adityanath's policies. Uttar Pradesh Congress spokesperson Ashok Singh said, "People in Uttar Pradesh are looking for a change. I am confident that voters in the byelections will give a befitting reply to the BJP for their anti-people policies."
Gorakhpur a BJP bastion
Of the two bypolls, its Gorakhpur which will be keenly watched by political decoders. The town in eastern Uttar Pradesh is a BJP stronghold, and the saffron party has been in power here since 1989. Adityanath himself is a five-time MP from the temple town and his elevation as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh is an indication that the party plans to continue with the politics pursued by him during his 20 years in charge of the constituency.
However, the last one year has not been good for the administration in this town. Especially the tragedy that hit Gorakhpur's Baba Raghav Das Medical College in August last year, when over 70 infants died at the hospital's encephalitis ward due to lack of oxygen. In all, the death toll at the hospital for the year 2017 was 1,304.
In January this year, there was more tragedy in store, as a massive fire engulfed large parts of the hospital, destroying the principal's office and important documents in the records room.
The Opposition already used the issue to slam the state government, with Congress accusing the government of "protecting the guilty". In the days leading up to the bypolls, this is likely to be one of the issues dominating the agenda.
Phulpur, Nehru's constituency
If Gorakhpur has been a BJP stronghold for the last two decades, Phulpur holds significance for the Congress party. It was the constituency from where India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, contested elections. Apart from Nehru, his sister Vijaylakshmi Pandit and former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri also contested elections from Phulpur.
As reported by The Times of India, three years ago, Phulpur fell out of Congress' hands in 2004, when Samajwadi Party's Atiq Ahmed won from here. He was followed by Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) Kapilmuni Karwariya. The Bharatiya Janata Party finally got on the scoresheet four years ago, in 2014, when Maurya won the constituency.
The Congress has made past attempts at regaining this constituency, even giving former Test cricketer Mohammad Kaif a ticket in 2014. While Kaif lost to Maurya eventually, he did connect with a majority of the constituency's young voters. A majority of the voters of the city have, after delimitation, become voters of Phulpur, which earlier comprised only the sprawling and populous trans-Ganga region of Allahabad district.
The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who have been relegated to virtual anonymity in Uttar Pradesh because of the BJP juggernaut, have joined forces to make it a three-pronged battle in both byelections this week.
As reported by Firstpost on Monday, SP and BSP are fighting with their backs to the wall. "Divided, they realised it rather late in the day that they would be facing a virtual extinction if not political obliteration altogether. But it would be equally wrong to assume that their coming together would consolidate the social bases they represent," wrote Ajay Singh.
Historically, the SP and BSP have always appealed to different demographics of Uttar Pradesh's large and fragmented population. But in coming together to take on the collective might of the BJP, the parties have shown a pragmatism that was lacking in earlier years.
But even more significantly, if SP and BSP can set aside their differences and field a joint candidate, there is hope that there could be a grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh, along the lines of what Nitish Kumar's JD(U), Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD and the Congress managed in Bihar in 2015. And just like the 'Mahagathbandhan' tasted success in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh too may see a change of guard.
Candidates in the fray
The Samajwadi Party has fielded Pravin Nishad from Gorakhpur and Nagendra Singh Patel from Phulpur. BSP chief Mayawati has decided to offer the party's support to the two candidates, but that needs to be taken in perspective. The BSP has traditionally never fielded candidates in byelections unless it's the party in power, as reported by Firstpost on Tuesday.
So, the BSP's decision of offering support to the SP candidate comes as a win-win for everybody concerned. The SP gets the support of a bitter rival, while the BSP wasn't required to make any sacrifices either. And though Mayawati was quick to clarify that the party had no plans of tying up with any other party, there are hopes already rising about a united coalition to take on the saffron behemoth.
The BJP, on its part, has fielded former Varanasi mayor Kaushalendra Singh Patel from Phulpur, and seasoned organisational leader Upendra Shukla from Gorakhpur. The choice of Shukla is seen as an outreach by the party to Brahmins, who are the largest upper caste community in the state and have been the BJP's traditional vote bank.
Meanwhile, the Congress has insisted it isn't about to join forces with anybody, opting to go it solo in both constituencies. "The Congress has already declared its candidates for the byelections to Phulpur and Gorakhpur Parliamentary seats and will contest independently of any understanding or tie-up that other parties have," Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Raj Babbar told PTI.
In Gorakhpur, party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said that Dr Sureetha will be its candidate, while local leader Manish Mishra will contest from Phulpur.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Mar 07, 2018 12:02 PM