UP bypolls: A divided opposition serves BJP’s interests

Congress and Samajwadi Party’s inability to forge a common platform has all but made a BJP victory certain in the Lok Sabha seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur, which will see bypolls on March 11

Photo courtesy: PTI
Photo courtesy: PTI

Sharat Pradhan

A divided opposition is likely to give the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) a clear edge on the two key parliamentary seats Phulpur and Gorakhpur that go for bypolls in Uttar Pradesh on March 11 .

It was not as if the key opposition players, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress (with Bahujan Samaj Party keeping out of the fray), were not aware of the pitfalls of their failure to put up a united candidate against the BJP . Yet, they failed to strike chord, thereby, virtually giving BJP a free run.

The BJP leadership, however, does not wish to give the impression that the party has become complacent in any way. About 40 top leaders of the party, led by Amit Shah, are listed as campaigners for the party nominees in both Phulpur and Gorakhpur.

The two prestigious Lok Sabha seats were vacated by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, respectively, who got themselves nominated to the state legislative council after the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls last year.

BJP’s smooth sail in Gorakhpur looks like a foregone conclusion, as the seat was held for five consecutive terms by Yogi Adityanath himself. Prior to that, it was Yogi’s ‘guru’ and political mentor Mahant Awaidyanath who retained the seat for three terms.

However, that is not the case in Phulpur, a Congress bastion for years under none other than former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It was only thanks to the Modi wave of 2014, that a political novice like Maurya (known only for his association with Vishwa Hindu Parishad) romped home from there in his life’s second major election (the first one being the 2012 state assembly poll).

No wonder, Maurya is himself not too confident of the party nominee’s smooth sailing from his erstwhile constituency now. However, a jailed mafia don Atiq Ahmed has magically come to Maurya’s rescue, by filing his nomination as an independent from prison. Not only BJP insiders but even many in the three opposition parties believe that with Atiq in the fray, he would take away a substantial share of the Muslim vote, accounting to nearly 15%. And that divide is bound to go to BJP’s advantage.

No wonder, therefore, Atiq’s entry is seen as a a huge respite for Maurya, who was otherwise worried about the fallout should the BJP nominee be defeated. With the strained relations between him and chief minister Yogi Adityanath now an open secret, a defeat of the BJP candidate from Maurya’s erstwhile seat would be a severe loss of face for him. Some BJP insiders even believe that it could threaten his prized position of deputy chief minister.

While Yogi Adityanath has already described the bypoll as a “rehearsal for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” BJP’s confidence to win both seats stems from the fact that the opposition has remained divided

That the opposition has virtually given up became visible in the weak candidates fielded by them. And notwithstanding all the talk about a Bihar-like mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) in UP, Samajwadi Party did not even care to draw a consensus on the candidates with Congress. Instead, Akhilesh unilaterally announced the candidature of Praveen Kumar Nishad from Gorakhpur and Nagendra Singh Patel from Phulpur.

Congress followed course by declaring Dr Sureetha Kareem as the party nominee from Gorakhpur and Manish Misra from Phulpur. Sure enough, that comes as good news for the BJP—at the end of the day, the opposition is divided. Despite the fact that Dr Sureetha Kareem is a well-known doctor enjoying wide respect in Gorakhpur, she is no match to BJP’s Upendra Dutt Shukla.

All she has for a political background is that she had once contested the mayor’s election and lost. But her Bengali lineage and her marriage to well-known physician Dr Kareem were no assets in a caste and communally-oriented Gorakhpur. While the city does not have a significant Bengali population, local Muslims are unlikely to support her simply because she is married to a Muslim. It is believed that in such an event, the larger chunk of Muslims would support the Samajwadi Party nominee, Praveen Kumar Nishad, who has the backing of a strong Nishad population in the region.

The scene in Phulpur seems no different as far as the candidates are concerned. BJP’s Kaushalendra Singh Patel may not be any great shakes but those fielded by SP and Congress are equally innocuous. SP’s strategy to field Nagendra Singh Patel in the hope of weaning away a section of the Patel vote from the BJP nominee may not work . And even if does work, it would be offset by the loss that the party may well suffer on account of division in the Muslim vote between SP, Congress and Atiq Ahmed. Congress nominee Manish Misra may help in turning the Brahmin vote in favour of Congress, but that alone is unlikely to put them on any winning wicket.

While Yogi Adityanath has already described the bypoll as a “rehearsal for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” BJP’s confidence to win both seats stems from the fact that the opposition has remained divided. “We can clearly see that opposition votes will split with both the SP and the Congress in the fray. However, we will contest on our strengths, and emerge victorious,” BJP spokesman Manish Shukla told mediapersons.

Shukla strongly believes that in addition to the “Modi wave,” the party has received a shot in the arm in the form of a “Yogi wave” now. “I am, therefore, confident that we will not only win on both the seats but also improve our victory margin in both the places.”

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