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

Saurabh Sharma | Apr 25, 2019 | 6 min read

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Gorakhpur polls: A test of caste and political alliances 


Saurabh Sharma

Gorakhpur: The Gorakhpur constituency in UP has been considered BJP's stronghold since 1991 to 2018. However, the 2019 general elections might not be a cakewalk for any political party, especially the BJP. Gorakhpur is going to the polls in the seventh and last phase of the Lok Sabha elections on May 19.


The Gorakhnath Mutt (a temple of the Nath community) has a big influence on the constituency. UP Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath (Ajay Singh Bisht) has been the mahant (chief 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.


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 Gathbandhan and joined the BJP. Dr. Nishad had apparently demanded five seats for his party to contest the elections, but his ask 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 neta-ji (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 by-polls. We will never compromise on our prestige,” he said. 


Rakesh Tripathi, BJP's UP spokesperson stated that MP Praveen Nishad joined the BJP after getting influenced by the party's leaders. "They joined us after getting 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 though. Vimlesh Nigam, a social activist said that the Nishad Party joining the BJP was a breach of the trust voters had placed in the party. "As a public representative and 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," Nigam added. 


Expert opinion has it that the battle for Gorakhpur is crucial for the BJP and hence it took long for the party to finalise a candidate. “SP fielded its former minister, Ram Bhuwal Nishad. Sunil Singh, who was Yogi'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,”  said, Dr. Rudra Pratap Dubey, a political analyst in UPHe further 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 Singh played a critical role in building support for Yogi Adityanath on ground, and people in the constituency are familiar with him.”


Manoj Kumar Singh, a political observer states that the only poll agenda for Gorakhpur residents is the Mutt and/or Yogi Adityanath. “The Mutt and the Gorakhnath temple have always had a strong hold over this constituency. Before Yogi Adityanath, his guru Mahant Awaidya Nath represented this seat in the parliament. Neither has development or nor any other issue played a role in the outcome of the elections held in Gorakhpur. If it had to be issue-led, then the deteriorating healthcare infrastructure in the constituency or the issue of damage caused due to floods would have gained attention. Gorakhpur has always voted on the basis of caste and for the Mutt,” Singh explained.

 

Nishad, Dalit and Muslim voters to decide fate of contestants

 

In the March 2018 by-elections, Gorakhpur elected Praveen Nishad, a candidate from the little-known Nishad Party. Praveen is the son of party chief, Dr. Sanjay Nishad and had contested the elections on an SP ticket. The Nishads are the most dominant groups in Gorakhpur and comprise 23 per cent of the population, about 4.5 lakh of  the constituency's total population of about 19.5 lakh voters.

The caste equation in the region stands at about 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.

Prof. R.R. Jha of the Political Science  department at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) states that the general election would be the most keenly contested polls in Gorakhpur and a test for the chief minister. “Everything is at stake for Yogi Adityanath because he did not take a lot of interest in the 2018 by-polls 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 CM's choice and the caste equations in the constituency,” he said. “Forget Raebareli, Varanasi or any other VIP constituency. This time, Gorakhpur and Amethi are the hot seats in the polls,” Prof. Jha added.

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

Yogi Adityanath's hold over Gorakhpur 

Yogi Adityanath fought the first Lok Sabha elections from Gorakhpur in 1998 and was contesting against Yamuna Prasad Nishad of the Samajwadi Party (SP). Yogi won that election with a margin of 26,206 votes. In 2004, he again contested against Yamuna Prasad of SP and the win 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.

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