K. Ramachandra Murthy

Gorakhpur: The battle for Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat is more critical for Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath than the BJP candidate himself. It is test by fire for the CM who was instrumental in getting the BJP candidate in 2018 by- election for the same seat defeated. A loss for the BJP candidate this time again would spell doom for the former head of Gorakhnath Mutt. It is do or die for him.

Gorakhpur has become a prestigious seat for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Party Chief Amit Shah who have campaigned extensively in this region. They are expected to visit the constituency once again before the campaign comes to an end on the 17th. As far as Yogi is concerned, he will be staying put at Gorakhpur till the polling is over on the 19th. Even if he has to go out on an emergency he would promptly return by evening.

Naths dominate Gorakhpur region

Naths who control the world renowned Gorakhnath Mutt are traditionally known as rivals of Brahmins, another dominant caste here. Yogi’s predecessor Mahant Avaidyanath was a five time MLA and two time MP. Avaidyanath’s predecessor Digvijaynath also was a lawmaker.

The mahants have been dominating the political as well as the religious spectrum in this part of UP. Both Naths who are Kshatriyas (or Thakurs) and Brahmins own vast tracts of lands and are known for their egoistic nature. Yogi could win five times from this constituency because he is seen as a symbol and warrior of Hindutva.

The polarization on religious lines was complete in 2014. The anti- UPA incumbency was an additional factor last time that helped the BJP score a landslide. Now there is a measure of anti- incumbency on account of Yogi’s administration which is dominated by Thakurs.

There is no anti-Modi sentiment as such. However, attempts by Modi and Shah to arouse emotions on Hindutva pitch appear to have failed to get expected popular response. In spite of allegations that Yogi’s police have been killing Muslims and Dalits in ruthless ‘encounters’, there is no upsurge in the concerned communities that would have evoked emotional response from the Hindus.

The Yogi government had taken up development works in and around Gorakhpur in a big way with a massive outlay of Rs. 4,000 crore. The problems that confronted the incumbent SP leader Akhilesh Yadav in 2017 Assembly elections, BSP- Bijili, Sadak aur Paani, have been largely addressed by Yogi. There has been focus on healthcare and law and order. The polarization in UP this time around seems to be more on caste rather than the religion or incumbency.

That was why Modi emphasized more on his caste than his religion or Pakistan in his election rhetoric at Kushinagar on Sunday. He was talking about the backwardness of his own caste and not about the stark poverty of the people in eastern UP.

Hub of eastern UP

Gorakhpur is a very important region. It is the hub of eastern UP. The old Gorakhpur had two sub-regions- Gorakhpur and Basti. Gorakhpur sub-region consists of five Lok Sabha constituencies- Gorakhpur, Bansgaon, Devaria, Kushinagar and Maharaj Ganj.

Basti has three- Sant Kabirnagar (the place where the great mystic poet and saint Kabir Das breathed his last), Basti and Dumaria Ganj. Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency comprises five Assembly segments: Gorakhpur (Urban), Gorakhpur (Rural), Pitaraich, Compere Ganj and Sahajanawa.

All the seats were won by the BJP in 2017 Assembly elections. All the MLAs were totally loyal to Yogi. They did not work heartily for the party candidate in the by- election. Even now, they are not enthused since their leader is not too happy with the candidature of Ravi Kishan Shukla, a Brahmin and a Jodhpuri film actor and singer from Jaunpur. There is a game plan behind the selection of Shukla as BJP candidate. To know what went into the plan, we have to consider the prolonged feud between Union Minister for Home Affairs Rajnath Singh and Yogi Adityanath.

Rajnath, born and brought up in Chandauli, is a staunch swayamsevak and a dedicated RSS worker who was an office-bearer in the Jan Sangh and the RSS. He was also a leader of the student front, Bharatiya Yuva Morcha, when he was studying BSc and MSc at Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gorakhpur University.

He was chief of the UP unit of the BJP who went on to become chief minister. Rajnath had the mortification of being at the helm of BJP affairs as its national president when Yogi was anointed as chief minister of the most populous State in the country. He could not stop the mahant in the tracks as it was the decision imposed by Mohan Bhagawat, the RSS chief from Nagapur.

While Rajnath belongs to Vajpayee-Advani school, Yogi is known to be radical and muscular in his approach to Hindutva. He would constantly attack Islamic terrorism. In the early years of Yogi’s politics, a number of mosques had mushroomed in eastern UP with funds flowing from Arabian countries and Iran.

Consequently, the forces of Hindutva got strengthened. Yogi’s Hindu Vaahini, his private army, would beat up anyone who disagreed with his line of politics. In his single-minded pursuit of power, Yogi sidelined the elders like Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra. He did not hide his dislike for Brahmins in the process.

The UP Brahmins, unlike their counterparts in South India, are aggressive and militant since they comprise more than ten percent of the State’s population. They have been vehement in their opposition to Yogi Adityanath.

In the by-election caused by Yogi’s resignation on account of his being nominated as chief minister, the BJP candidate Upendra Dutt Shukla, a Brahmin, was a diehard loyalist of Rajnath Singh. He lost the by-election thanks to Yogi and his loyal MLAs. Shukla’s name was proposed again this time by Union Home Minister. Yogi opposed it and instead insisted on nominating his protege, Dharmendra Singh.

Modi-Shaw duo accepted neither of the two candidates proposed by Rajnath and Yogi. They appointed a team to conduct a survey and suggest a name for the candidature. In the meanwhile, Manoj Tiwari, a Bihari who is also a Bhojpuri singer, and the president of Delhi BJP, suggested the name of his friend Ravi Kishan Sukla to Amit Shaw. Thus, the actor, who fought 2014 election on a Congress ticket from Jaunpur, was given the BJP ticket by Shaw in the name of the committee’s survey report. Shukla was not fully accepted by Brahmins.

Hemanth Tripathi, a retired government officer, says even if the actor gets elected he will be busy working for his films in Mumbai studios and cannot devote time to public service. Yogi also has to contend with rebels chief of whom is his former lieutenant in Hindu Vaahini, Sunil Singh, who is sparing no efforts in mobilizing forces against the BJP. Ever since Sunil Singh walked out of Vaahini, some three dozen criminal cases were foisted on him by Yogi government. Sunil Singh accuses Yogi of betraying Lord Ram.

BJP’s efforts to win over others

The BJP leadership has been continuing with is efforts launched in 2014 to assiduously cultivate the non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits.

If the efforts bear fruits again as they did in the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, the Ghatbandhan carved out by SP, BSP and RLD would come a cropper. Although the Yadav’s are the largest community in the constituency closely followed by Nishads, fishermen who are also variously called in different regions of UP as Mallah, Bind, Kevat and Sahani, Akhilesh Yadav was strategically perfect in selecting a Nishad as a candidate on behalf of Ghatbandhan.

But it was different candidate, not the one who came to be known as giant-killer when he defeated the BJP candidate in Yogi’s forte. There is a twist here in unprincipled politics practised by the BJP which used to call itself a party with a difference.

Praveen Kumar Nishad who won in the toughest by-election in 2018 by a margin of 20,000 votes as an SP candidate, thus paving the way for the consolidation of Yadav’s and Dalits, was wooed and won over by the BJP leadership. Sanjay Nishad, Praveen’s father and chief of Nishad Party which has considerable influence in eastern UP, announced two days after he addressed a joint media conference with Akhilesh Yadav on March 27 that he is leaving the Ghatbandhan.

Praveen was put up in Sant Kabir Nagar as BJP candidate. Akhilesh had to do some scounting before announcing the candidature of Ram Bhuwal Nishad, a leader who was earlier with the BSP. Mayawati made him a minister. Majority leaders of Nishad community in Gorakhpur, however, appear to be with the Ghatbandhan.

While Yadav population in the constituency is 2.4 lakh, the Nishads are 2.3 lakhs. Dalits, Brahmins and Muslims are other major communities.

Tacit understanding?

Observers in UP say that there was a tacit understanding between Mayawati, Akhilesh and Rahul Gandhi to divide the upper caste vote of the BJP by keeping the Congress out of the alliance and making it contest separately. The Congress of yesteryears used to enjoy the unstinted support of Brahmins, Dalits and Muslims.

Dalits are 22 percent of UP population. Muslims comprise more than 17 percent. Kanshi Ram and Mayawati took away Dalits from the Congress in 1980s. Then Brahmins were lured by Mayawati later. They subsequently deserted Mayawati too and migrated to the BJP. The Congress had a plethora of Brahmin chief ministers, the last ones being Kamalapati Tripathi, Hemavati Nandan Bahuguna and Narayan Dutt Tiwari.

The grand old party hopes to eat into the Brahmin votes of the BJP. Muslims have been always tactful. They would vote for any secular party that is in a position to beat the BJP. Thus, the Congress may get Muslim votes in about ten constituencies.

In Gorakhpur, the Congress candidate is Madhusudan Tiwari, an advocate with a shady background. Brahmins are unlikely to vote for the Congress here. They would vote to SP candidate just like the Muslims with a view of defeating Yogi’s BJP candidate.

As against this background, what we witness in Gorakhpur is the toughest contest, a war of attrition, in the whole of UP. Modi-Shah-Yogi trio had invested a lot of time and energy in the BJP campaign pulling all the plugs.

The numbers on the paper are in favour of the SP candidate. If the BJP’s efforts to consolidate the non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs behind its candidate are successful as they were in 2017 Assembly elections, the BJP will scrape through.

If the Nishad community is vertically divided, the BJP would win handsomely. Otherwise, it will be the SP. All said and done, the main deciding factor in Gorakhpur Lok Sabha election is Yogi Adityanath, the most controversial and extremely divisive chief minister that UP or, for that matter, any other State in the country had ever seen.

Also Read: Kushinagar Paints A Complex Poll Picture