Before Yogi Adityanath’s name was announced, there was a buzz that the BJP would field him either from Lord Ram’s birthplace (Shri Ram Janmabhoomi) Ayodhya or Lord Krishna’s birthplace (Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi) Mathura.
These were merely in the realm of speculation as there was no official word from the BJP or any party leader to that effect.
Yogi Adityanath welcomed the decision by thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president JP Nadda, and congratulated all the 106 other party candidates whose names were announced by Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who is the leader in-charge of UP assembly election.
However, the announcement was met with sharp reactions from BJP’s strongest rival – the Samajwadi Party (SP). Its leaders attributed different reasons for the decision of the party ruling at the Centre and in UP.
SP president Akhilesh Yadav took a dig at the BJP’s decision to field Yogi Adityanath from the latter’s bastion of Gorakhpur. In a tweet in Hindi, he said: “Sometimes they said Mathura and sometimes they said Ayodhya. Now they are saying Gorakhpur. His party (BJP) only has sent him back to his home. In fact, he has not got a ticket but his return ticket has been cancelled.”
कभी कहा मथुरा… कभी कहा अयोध्या… और अब कह रहे हैं… गोरखपुर… जनता से पहले इनकी पार्टी ने ही इनको वापस घर भेज दिया है…… https://t.co/V5tsGIZgY2
— Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) 1642240452000
SP spokesperson Fakhrul Hasan Chaand gave another reason for Yogi Adityanath’s candidature from Gorakhpur. In a Koo post in Hindi, he said: “The BJP has sent Yogi back to Gorakhpur due to the negative mood of the people of Ayodhya against him. The fear of defeat prevailed.”
Another SP spokesperson IP Singh, while speaking to PTI, said: “The claim of our national president (Akhilesh Yadav) will be 100 per cent true as our party defeated BJP from Gorakhpur in the 2018 Lok Sabha byelection. As sitting BJP MLA Radha Mohan Das Agarwal was denied ticket from Gorakhpur Sadar (Urban) seat and due to politics of lies and hatred this time the BJP will be wiped out from the entire state.”
However, sources in the BJP said there were other reasons for fielding Yogi Adityanath from Gorakhpur.
Damage control exercise
Gorakhpur lies in eastern UP. Last week, three cabinet ministers – Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharam Singh Saini – in the Yogi government and seven BJP MLAs quit the party. Of these three ministers, two are from eastern UP.
Maurya had won the 2017 assembly election from Padrauna, the district headquarters of Kushinagar. Similarly, Chauhan had won the last state election from Madhuban, which lies in Mau district of the state.
The two are considered to be influential leaders of the OBCs. They may inflict damage to the BJP in the eastern UP.
The BJP is of the view that with Yogi as a candidate from Gorakhpur, this damage could be minimised, the sources said.
Galvanise support in eastern UP
When PM Modi had contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Varanasi, it helped consolidate the BJP’s position not just in eastern UP, as Varanasi lies in the region, but also the adjoining western Bihar.
With Modi in Varanasi and Yogi in Gorakhpur, the BJP hopes to garner a majority of the votes in eastern UP.
Eastern Uttar Pradesh accounts for 160 of the total 403 assembly seats. This comes close to 40 per cent of the total seats in the state.
Of these 160 seats, the BJP had won 115 in the 2017 assembly election, while SP was victorious on 17 seats, BSP on 14, the Congress two and other parties and independents won 12 seats.
Moreover, the BJP is aiming to galvanise support in Gorakhpur’s neighbouring districts of Basti, Siddharthnagar, Kushinagar, Maharajganj, Balrampur, Sant Kabir Nagar and Deoria due to Yogi Adityanath’s candidature.
By contesting from his pocket borough of Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath would have more time at his disposal to pay attention to other regions of UP. He would also have to worry less about winning from his stronghold and strategise more for the remaining part of the state.
Till he assumed the UP CM’s office, Yogi Adityanath was a five-term Lok Sabha MP from Gorakhpur, having registered consecutive victories in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 general elections.
Moreover, he is the head of the highly popular Gorakhnath Mutt. Yogi Adityanath is a revered figure in the region.
His popularity could be gauged from the fact that the BJP fielded Shiv Pratap Shukla from Gorakhpur seat in the 2002 UP assembly election against Yogi Adityanath’s wish. The yogi rebelled against his party and backed Radha Mohan Das Agarwal, who was contesting on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket.
The BJP lost the seat and Agarwal was victorious on the seat prestigious for Adityanath. Agarwal subsequently went on to win in all three following assembly elections in 2007, 2012 and 2017.
Since 1989, the BJP has lost Gorakhpur just once in 2002.
Mathura and Ayodhya a big no-no
In contrast to Gorakhpur, where the affair has so far been smooth, Yogi Adityanath’s candidature either in Mathura or Ayodhya could have created complications for the BJP.
The CM could have found it difficult to contest from Mathura. The pilgrim city is represented in the assembly by energy minister Shrikant Sharma, who is considered close to the top leadership in the party.
Sharma was the media in-charge of the BJP’s national headquarters in Delhi till he was handed over an assembly ticket in 2017. Despite being a first-time MLA, he was allotted the important portfolio of energy ministry.
Further, Sharma has been praised by senior leaders, including Yogi Adityanath himself, in public rallies for “improving” the electricity situation in the state.
In yet another reason, Sharma is a Brahmin while Yogi Adityanath is a Thakur. The Brahmins are said to be cut up with Adityanath and the BJP for being ignored at the cost of the Thakurs. The BJP is trying hard to smoothen the ruffled feathers of the Brahmins. Replacing Sharma with Adityanath would have antagonised the Brahmins, who constitute more than 10 per cent of the state’s population.
The same Brahmin-Thakur equation with the BJP was responsible for Yogi Adityanath not being fielded in Ayodhya.
SP leader and spokesperson Tej Narayan Pandey alias Pawan Pandey is likely to be the SP candidate from Ayodhya. He had won the seat in 2012 and was the state forest minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government.
However, he was defeated by Ved Prakash Gupta of the BJP by a margin of over 50,000 votes in the 2017 assembly election.
Had Yogi Adityanath been fielded from Ayodhya, the contest would have become one between Thakurs and Brahmins. The tremors could have been felt in other parts of the state, adversely affecting the BJP’s prospects.
Not to displease Yogi’s constituency
With Yogi Adityanath being popular as a politician and a revered person as the head of the Gorakhnath Mutt in Gorakhpur, his flight to any other constituency would have been taken as short shrift by his supporters.
Yogi Adityanath is contesting an assembly election for the first time. After becoming the CM in March 2017, he got elected as an MLC (member of legislative council).
After having contested and won five Lok Sabha elections, he has maintained his relationship with his constituency in the upcoming assembly election also.