‘Ashwamedh ka ghoda hai, Yogi ji ne chhoda hai’, is how Bharatiya Janata Party supporters accompanying a motorcade of Bhojpuri cine star Ravi Kishan introduce their candidate in the politically significant Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency.
Amid the lung-stressing cacophony of BJP workers urging for imperial domination, Ravi Kishan, sporting a dark shade, seemed happy playing the “sacrificial yajna horse” and mouthing some of his signature filmi dialogues intermittently.
But somewhere behind the scenes lies a deep-seated desperation of the BJP brass, especially Yogi Adityanath, in wresting this seat and sustaining the political dominance of Gorakhnath Mutt in this constituency which slid to Samajwadi Party’s kitty in the 2018 Lok Sabha bypoll, causing huge embarrassment to Yogi.
With caste arithmetic expected to play a huge role this time, a sub-par performance by the BJP could well mean curtains for the political might of the Mutt in the polity of Gorakhpur for years to come. Hence, the 2019 polls could well be a watershed event for the saffron party as also its political adversaries.
Comprising Gorakhpur Urban and Rural, Pipraich, Sahjanwa and Campiarganj Assembly segments, the constituency has 19.05 lakh voters. A quick scan of voters’ castes is enough to worry the Bharatiya Janata Party this time as the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have joining hands to field a joint candidate.
With Nishads (mallah or boatmen) being the dominant vote bloc with 3.5 lakh voters, followed by Dalits and Yadavs who account for 2.5 lakh each, the SP has fielded old war horse Ram Bhual Nishad as the alliance candidate. What could work for the Nishad is the fact that there is a potent number of Muslim voters, 2.5 lakh to be precise, in this constituency.
Congress, meanwhile, has given its ticket to lawyer and member of UP Bar Council, Madhusudan Tripathi, eyeing the 1.5 lakh Brahmin voters and hoping to eat into the BJP’s share of Brahmin votes.
Going by people’s opinion, the task for the BJP is a rather onerous one. When asked about the Mutt’s age-old political dominance, retired government employee Om Dutt explained, “Gorakhnath Mutt is revered by people of not only Gorakhpur but several districts. This is why Mahant Avaidyanath of the BJP won from here in 1991 and 1996. His legacy was carried forward by his disciple, Yogi Adityanath in the 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 general elections. Religious fervour came into play so much that people across caste lines voted for the Mahant.”
So what changed in the 2018 bypoll, when SP’s Praveen Nishad defeated BJP’s Upendra Shukla by nearly 22,000 votes and due to which the alliance camp was so upbeat?
Om Dutt explained, “Public faith is restricted to the Mahant and not his representative. Besides, after becoming Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath’s presence became limited and he became less accessible to locals. Yogi also distanced himself from die-hard disciples. His disciple for 20 years and Hindu Yuva Vahini leader Sunil Singh was framed in several cases and tortured at Rajghat police station of Gorakhpur last year for dissenting with him. This did not go down well with the locals as Singh has 13,000 dedicated volunteers who will naturally damage BJP’s chances. Yogi’s popularity is hence on the wane.”
Hotelier Anuj Kumar felt that fielding Ravi Kishan was BJP’s recipe to disaster. “The film star is viewed as a non-serious guy with scarce political experience. In his speeches, he comes up with an oft-repeated Bhojpuri dialogue to enthuse the crowd but that will hardly translate into votes. The Nishad-Yadav-Dalit-Muslim, combine is in play and politically very potent.”
College teacher and SP supporter Vijay Mishra commented: “The BJP brass made things easier for the alliance. Bypoll runner-up Upendra Shukla or sitting MP Praveen Nishad, who joined BJP recently, would have been better bets and offered a fight. Ravi Kishan is a non-starter and his approach is cosmetic. He starts the day around 10 am, goes back for lunch and a nap and then meets people between 5 and 7 pm. I think he already knows that he has lost the poll.”
Public welfare schemes started by the Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath governments, too, seemed to have left little impact on rural voters.
Ramrati of Bhiti Rawat village of Sahjanwa segment felt that giving cooking gas and power connections and affordable houses to the poor is the government’s duty and since it was done from public money, the regimes did not do any favour.
Apprehensions of Dalits and Yadavs not voting for SP and BSP candidates respectively, an assumption that the BJP has fervently pinned its hopes on, seem to have been taken care of by the SP-BSP brass.
Yadav-Dalit animosity and conflicts are common place in east UP, but BSP supporter Ram Bodh of Jurian Khas village of Sahjanwa stressed that he would vote for the SP candidate as his victory would ensure that Behenji (Mayawati) becomes the next prime minister of India.