Gorakhpur: Major cracks in Yogi’s fiefdom before it goes to polls

BJP’s chances in its Gorakhpur bastion are threatened by spoiler candidates, anti-incumbency, an influential community organisation extending support to the SP-Congress alliance, and a new OBC party

Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Abhishek Srivastava

The spotless courtyard of the Gorakshnath Peeth was abuzz with reporters from the national media. It was a pleasant Thursday morning, with the clock ticking towards the end of campaigning for the sixth phase of Uttar Pradesh polls. Ajay Singh Bisht alias Yogi Adityanath, the popular BJP MP from Gorakhpur, arrived in haste with half a dozen men. Surprisingly, he was almost stone-faced, avoiding eye contact with anyone. He accepted written applications from two saffron-clad sadhus, directed his assistant "Isko dekh liiyega" and left.

Adityanath did not even bother to greet the media, let alone respond to any questions. It was obvious why. Morning editions of all dailies in Gorakhpur bore BJP advertisements on their front page, from which his photograph was missing. Prominent was Amit Shah, the BJP national president who Adityanath was setting off to receive. The ads were for a final bout of campaigning in Gorakhpur—a road show by Shah and Adityanath, planned meticulously along a route through Muslim areas, to polarise Hindu voters in favour of BJP.

Adityanath is sailing in rather troubled waters this time. Gorakhpur, that used to be his bastion, has gone out of his control. A day before the roadshow, Kayastha Vikas Parishad, the representative organisation of the Kayasthas had announced its support for the SP-Congress alliance. The Kayastha community, with around 80,000 votes, is the biggest voting bloc in Gorakhpur city. Brahmins are second in strength and they have moved towards the BSP. BJP candidate and three-time MLA Dr Radha Mohan Das Agrawal may well face defeat.

Spoilers and a new party

Adding to this crisis, is the major rebellion in Adityanath's own outfit, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, whose now suspended president Sunil Singh has fielded 14 candidates in these elections. In a long conversation with this correspondent on Thursday, Singh was confident that BJP would be swept out from Gorakhpur. He is not sure of his candidates chances, but has set out to seek revenge from his mentor who has "politically used them for last 25 years and never heard their voices".

Conspiracy theories have been floating around that the 14 candidates of Hindu Yuva Vahini are dummy candidates put up by Adityanath to build pressure on the BJP leadership. But senior journalist Manoj Singh says they are in fact a significant spoiler. He says, "The Yuva Vahini has in the past also been fielding candidates but it is an altogether different scene this time. It is a serious rebellion and almost 75% Vahini cadre are with Sunil Singh. It may dent BJP's fortunes."

Photo by Abhishek Srivastava
Photo by Abhishek Srivastava
A supporter of the Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal, or Nishad Party, in Gorakhpur

The desperation in the BJP camp is visible. Of eight seats in the district, BJP is expecting just a single seat in the urban area, due to voters' belief in Gorakshnath Mandir. But even in urban Gorakhpur, there are headwinds of anti-incumbency. People are openly heaping criticism on Dr Agrawal. During his campaign, he was forced to leave in at least three places. In one incident, women started posing questions and forced him to flee. A local journalist of a Hindi daily captured the incident on his video camera and filed a story. He was surprised to learn later that the story had been dropped, for unknown reasons.

A marketing manager of national daily posted in Gorakhpur is candid about ad spend. He says local dailies have offered package deals to candidates ranging from ₹10.5 to ₹20 lakhs for full page ads and news stories.

Meanwhile, Adityanath's face is missing from every BJP hoarding and banner in the city, although he has been a star campaigner and has held more than 150 rallies in the state in the last month. Sunil Singh says, "We are not fighting against Yogi Maharaj but we are here to defend those values and principles of Hindutva that were once taught to us by him only". So, what has happened to those values? He says, "BJP has cast black magic over Yogi ji. He has been offended umpteen times by the BJP leadership, despite that he has surrendered to people like Amit Shah and is only doing power politics. We are opposed to this, not to Maharaj".

There has been much talk about BJP attracting non-Yadav OBC voters in UP. In Gorakhpur, this trend may not hold as the largest chunk of Nishad voters in rural areas have shown allegiance to their own Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal, or Nishad Party. There are around a lakh Nishad votes in rural Gorakhpur. "Earlier they used to vote for BSP and BJP. Now that they have formed their own party, they are not going anywhere else", says Manoj Singh.

So the million-dollar question is: Who will vote for BJP in Gorakhpur? Senior journalist Utkarsh Sinha says, "They have no clue about it. BJP is trying hard to polarise Hindu voters but it has failed to do so. I personally feel BSP will lead in five seats and if it has worked hard enough, BJP may save its face in the city, otherwise it is a complete disaster for Yogi".

Just ahead of voting, rumours began spreading in the region that bureaucrats in Lucknow are practising walking without shoes. The same rumour mongers say BJP knows which party leader prefers this etiquette in the state Secretariat.

Poorvanchal will decide the fate of UP assembly elections. Every party has played its last card. Gorakhpur votes on Saturday.

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