Lucknow: No other Lok Sabha seat out of the total 80 in Uttar Pradesh had seen such intense calculations, strategies and political coups by the BJP, as the Prestigious Gorakhpur constituency. The constituency, which for around two decades had been a stronghold of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, became the Achilles heel for him when it was lost to the SP-BSP alliance in the 2018 by-polls. For the Lok Sabha elections this time, he has ensured that he only takes the final call on giving party ticket on “his seat”.
In a surprise move, the party denied ticket to Upendra Shukla, an old BJP loyal who had contested last year’s by-polls. Shukla lost the elections by a margin of only 22,000 to Pravin Nishad of the SP-BSP alliance.
Reliable sources then had said that Adityanath was not happy with the choice of party candidate for the by-polls. In some quarters, it was also read as attempt to vein off “Yogi’s influence and hold” on the seat.
Another cause of concern for both the BJP and Yogi had been to tackle the influential Nishad politics in the region. Before the by-polls, the SP-BSP alliance had sprung a surprise by stitching up an alliance with a small identity-based political outfit, Nishad Party, and had fielded Praveen Nishad as its candidate from the seat. Praveen’s Father Sanjay Nishad is the founder and president of this political outfit.
The reason why this alliance succeeded in humiliating the BJP, particularly CM Adityanath, in the elections, was the strong presence of the most backward caste Nishad vote on the Gorakhpur seat.
Nishads, along with other most backward castes such as Kahar, Mallah and Kashyap, constitute for about 19 percent of the voter strength in the constituency. This, along with around 13 percent Muslim voters and around 7 percent OBC-Yadav voters had slightly tilted the odds in favour of the alliance in the by-polls.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and BSP president Mayawati had both expected this alliance to continue in the 2019 polls, as a result of which, Akhilesh even announced the re-candidature of Praveen Nishad from Gorakhpur. The decision announced in a press conference held in Lucknow earlier this month in the presence of Nishad Party chief Sanjay Nishad.
However, within a few days, the BJP performed a surprise coup and pictures of Sanjay Nishad and his son and MP from Gorkahpur, Praveen, meeting the Yogi Adityanath were released by the chief minister’s office. Sources say Adityanath had been personally monitoring ‘Operation Nishad’.
Over the next few days, the coup was complete as Nishad party declared an alliance with the BJP. Akhilesh had to swallow a humble pie as he went ahead and changed the candidate for the seat and alleged that “it’s the ill-gotten money during demonetisation that has made this coup possible.”
But all said and done, Adityanath, the chief mahant of the famous Goraksha Peeth in Gorakhpur, had successfully fixed a biggest irritant in his Gorakhpur plans. With Nishad factor in his favour, it was now time to ensure no new local leadership got entrenched in the BJP politics there on ground zero.
Sources say Adityanath was in search of a popular face, and that too from the upper caste, but someone who wouldn’t try to deepen his own roots in the constituency, someone who could be an outsider, contesting elections purely on the basis of party strength and Yogi’s personal hold in the city. Someone who is basically not a political person.
Famous Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan, a Brahmin, fits the bill perfectly. Born as Ravi Kishan Shukla, the popular actor cuts deep resonance in the eastern UP belt, where Bhojpuri is a language close to heart.
A senior BJP leader not willing to be quoted explained the political dynamics. “Using Ravi Kishan as the future MP from Gorakhpur is like killing many birds with a single arrow. Even in his victory, Yogi can be assured of his hold on his home turf. Secondly, he had also successfully countered the allegation of being anti-Brahmin and finally by shifting Praveen Nishad to Sant Kabeer Nagar seat, Yogi had tried to keep the Nishad Party in good humour and also ensured that it doesn’t make strong inroads in his erstwhile constituency of Gorakhpur.”
From 1999 to 2014 Adityanath had continuously represented Gorakhpur in the Parliament. Despite having moved ahead to occupy the post of UP chief minister in 2017, he does not seem to be ready to let the politics of Gorakhpur slip away from his grip.