Missing the bus to Ayodhya will cost both Yogi and the BJP in Uttar Pradesh
While UP CM Yogi Adityanath will contest the election from Gorakhpur, some sections in BJP say he is not averse to contest from both Gorakhpur and Ayodhya. But either way, he and BJP are both losers
BJP has decided to field Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath from his home turf Gorakhpur. The decision has surprised many, as the media had been briefed by his spokespersons that he would be contesting from Ayodhya. Speculation has been rife on whether Yogi himself opted for a ‘safe seat’ or the party tried to cut him short from competing with ‘brand Modi’. Either way BJP appears to have burnt its fingers.
And although there are whispers within the BJP that Yogi still wants to contest from Ayodhya, that now appears a remote possibility. Ayodhya has a strong symbolic connect with those associated with right-wing politics. For BJP, losing Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi city would amount to a loss of face and credibility, although it has lost the seat several times since 1990, even when the temple movement was at its peak.
Yogi might have nursed the ambition of representing a constituency that is now said to be the most important centre of Hindu faith according to the narratives the ‘Right Wing’ has crafted. Although he is the CM of the largest state, Yogi still might have felt the need to boost his pan-India image to emerge as a 'national alternative'.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be 73 plus when India goes to vote in 2024. By the standards set by himself, he should be joining the Margdarshak Mandal by 2026. Should he step down in 2026 or lose the election in 2024, who will be his successor? It may look awkward to ask who after Modi at this moment in time, but within BJP itself, these discussions are taking place.
So, has Yogi, who was not even the party's chief ministerial face in 2017, been cut to size and asked to confine himself to Gorakhpur? His ambitions may have unsettled many within the party. His deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya has ambitions of his own. At the national level, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and even Amit Shah are certainly biding for time.
"If he was allowed to contest from Ayodhya and managed to win, surely he may have become a national cult, challenging brand Modi and his deputy Amit Shah", claims a party insider. So, there is a possibility that the decision to field yogi from Gorakhpur was made to cut an outsider (for his Hindu Vahini links)," claim party veterans.
In any case, Ayodhya isn’t a cakewalk for BJP even this time. Not even for Yogi. In 2017 Ved Prakash Gupta of BJP won the seat by a margin of 50,440 votes. Tej Narayan Pandey of SP got 56,574 while Bazmi Siddiqui of BSP had to satisfy with 39,554 votes. In 2012 Tej Narayan Pandey of the Samajwadi party had defeated Lallu Singh of the BJP by the narrow margin of 5,405 votes. But in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, Samajwadi Party managed to collect 40.9 percent votes from the constituency, despite the hype created around temple construction. If OBCs and SCs decide to back the Samajwadi Party Congress candidate puts up a decent show, as anticipated, BJP may find it tough to win in Ayodhya, say local poll pundits.
A tough fight against Yogi can also be put up in Gorakhpur, but its alliance with Nishad Party makes BJP and the incumbent CM more confident.
Does yogi still want to contest from Ayodhya?
Speculation that regardless of getting a 'safe' seat in Gorakhpur, Yogi still wants to take the risk of contesting from Ayodhya, may not be entirely baseless. He is not a man who is easily tamed, say sources close to his camp. “A conspiracy theory is being circulated in party groups that someone in the party wants to ruin the prospects of Yogi Adityanath”, says Krishna Kumar Pandey, a resident of Ayodhya. “Even if he returns as a candidate to Ayodhya, no one will want to see him win and become stronger," he adds.
But if he still manages to contest from both Gorakhpur and Ayodhya, he might win both but the party will suffer, says Neeraj Saxena, a political analyst in Lucknow. “ The narrative already is that he was fearful of taking on the opposition head-on in Ayodhya. If he contests from two seats, people will now say, he isn’t safe even in Gorakhpur,” he adds.
Whether he himself planted the news in the media that he would contest from Ayodhya or his minders in the party, the damage has been done. The media bent over backward to describe the decision as a masterstroke. They are now at a loss for words to describe his return to Gorakhpur. The rollback has been devastating for his image.
And while Yogi may win or lose in Gorakhpur, and even in Ayodhya, it is certain that both he and his party will suffer the consequences of the rollback.