The author is a Lucknow-based independent journalist with over 25 years experience in media - print, television and digital. He started his career with the Pioneer, working later with The Times of India, Newstime, Hyderabad and Tehelka. He also worked with Zee News and ETV (UP). He was Editor (U.P.) of bhaskar.com and later founded Newstrack.com.
In less than a year’s time, a new star campaigner and poster boy emerged in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). After result-oriented successful poll campaigns from Gujarat to Himachal Pradesh and northeastern states, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath suddenly rose to the top among the party second rung leadership. So much so that Sangh Parivar even started projecting him as a possible alternative to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But his sudden rise within the party hierarchy was short-circuited by the by-poll reversals in his home turf. It is perhaps the only instance in Indian political history that a Lok Sabha seats vacated by the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister of a state were lost by the ruling party. The humiliating defeats in Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha by-polls in Uttar Pradesh (UP) has caused a major personal blow to the ‘Saffron Monk’. His rising political image too has suffered a beating.
Has he become a victim of the BJP’s internal politics to check his sudden rise or has he himself scripted the by-poll reversals to counter those coming on his way to establish himself as the top leader next to Modi within the party hierarchy? The truth seems to lie in between!
The saffron-clad Chief Minister, who contributed a major role in BJP’s success in the polls in the northeastern states, is a now being accused by his own party leaders of failing to save his own citadel. The supremacy of the famous Gorakhnath Mutt – which always was more political than spiritual has eroded for the first time when the party Central leadership fielded a candidate outside the Mutt and against the wishes of Yogi Adityanath.
After retaining the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat its pocket borough for 27 years, it slipped out of the Mutt’s grip, much to the discomfort of its Head Priest Mahant Yogi Adityanath, who had suggested three names from the Mutt for his successor for the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat.
To add to his cup of woes, apparently, the Phulpur Lok Sabha seat was also lost in the by-poll. But here lies the catch. BJP insiders claim that despite an internal report that all was not well in Phulpur, Yogi Adityanath deliberately ignored it to settle political scores with his own deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya, who had tried till the last minute to check Yogi’s ascendancy to the UP throne.
Riding on the Modi wave, the prestigious seat, once represented by late Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, was won by the BJP for the first time by the party State President Keshav Prasad Maurya. Crushing defeat on both Lok Sabha seats that went to by-polls on March 11 has left a bitter taste in BJP’s mouth. Not to talk about reducing its strength in Lok Sabha to 273, just one more than the magic figure, or majority.
As a principle, the Prime Minister Naredra Modi has made it a point not to campaign in the by-polls. The party president Amit Shah had entrusted the task of retaining the two prestigious seats on the UP Chief Minister. The party leadership has now accused Yogi Adityanath of failing to live up to their expectations.
Was it deliberate on his part or did Yogi fail to handle a new political situation which cropped up suddenly in the state after Mayawati announced support to Samajwadi Party candidates?
Not even in his wildest dreams Yogi Adityanath would have ever thought of losing Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat to a political opponent, had his choice of candidate been accepted by the party. He represented the seat a record five consecutive terms. Since 1989, the seat was with the Gorakhnath Mutt, first by his spiritual Guru Mahant Avaidhyanath in 1989, 1991 and 1996 and then by him since 1998.
But what went wrong once he vacated the prestigious seat?
Firstly, it was the bad pick of Upendra Dutt Shukla, a candidate from outside the Mutt, and a close associate of Union Minister of State Shiv Pratap Shukla, once an arch-rival of Yogi Adityanath in Gorakhpur. Unfortunately, Upendra suffered a brain stroke and was out of action for five crucial days of campaigning.
In fact, both the candidates were picked by the party high command on the recommendations of party organising general secretary Sunil Bansal, who was imported from Rajasthan by Amit Shah to look after Uttar Pradesh. Perhaps Shah never trusted the UP leaders.
Party sources close to the Chief Minister confide that Shukla was forced upon Yogi to cut him into size after his political stature catapulted next to Modi’s within a year. Being a Thakur from Uttarakhand hills, Yogi Adityanath has often faced accusations of ignoring Brahman supporters of the party and roping in support of backward caste leaders.
In fact, soon after coming to power, Yogi ordered raid on the ‘Haata’ (premises) of Eastern UP mafia don and an undisputed Brahmsn leader Hari Shanker Tiwari, which annoyed the Brahmans further in Gorakhpur. Six-time MLA from Chillupar, Tiwari and Yogi have been at loggerheads for more than two decades. After Congress, LCP and Samajwadi Party (SP), Tiwari’s clan is now with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). On Mayawati’s direction, he made Brahmans vote in large numbers for the SP candidate to defeat BJP’s Upendra Dutt Shukla.
Similarly, In Phulpur the party Central leadership denied ticket to Keshav Prasad Maurya’s wife and fielded Kaushlendra Singh Patel, imported from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi, much to the annoyance of the party cadre in Allahabad. After Congress, Phulpur has been ‘karmabhoomi’ of socialist leaders like Dr Ram Manohar Lohia and Janeshwar Mishra, who was popularly known as ‘Chote Lohia’.
Barring the exception in 2014, the BJP could never win the seat even once. BSP founder late Kanshi Ram had also tried his luck when he fought 1996 Lok Sabha polls. But he lost to Jang Bahadur Patel, his own disciple, shown the doors by Mayawati. Dominated by Patels, dalits and Muslims, the SP candidate Nagendra Pratap Singh Patel did not waste time to turn the polls into ‘local versus outsider Patel’ issue.
Irked by facing a similar situation back in his home turf Gorakhpur, Adityanath in a way helped his own party leaders out to queer the pitch for its own candidate in Phulpur. The aim was to discredit his rival Maurya, who had gotten mafia don Ateeq Ahmed to contest as an Independent from the jail for splitting SP Muslim votes.
Initially, the Yogi government provided certain facilities to the mafia don in jail but suddenly ordered a raid in his cell, much to the discomfiture of Ateeq. Mobile phones, cash and other items were seized, and a case was registered. Ateeq’s son and other family members tacitly supported the SP candidate instead of helping the BJP.
In a surprise move a couple of days before the by-polls, the BSP supremo Maywati announced support for her bitter rival SP candidates on the two crucial Lok Sabha seats. Though Yogi knew a formidable caste alliance is back into UP’s politics ahead of by-polls, yet he chose to ignore it and continued taking digs at the ‘unholy and opportunistic’ alliance, much to advantage of the BSP supported Samajwadi Party candidates in both by-poll seats.
It was the same SP-BSP combine which had made Sangh Parivar’s Babri Masjid demolition ‘hero’ Kalyan Singh bite the dust in 1993 when he was riding high on the temple wave of 1992. A new slogan was coined. “Kanshi Ram aur Mulayam Singh aaye saath, urr gaya Jai Sri Ram” (Jai Sri Ram vanished into air after Kanshi Ram and Mulayam Singh Yadav came together).
Mayawati replicated the same time-tested experiment just before the by-polls, despite having bitter differences with the Samajwadi. As a rule, BSP does not contest by-polls. To contain her voters and test the political waters ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha, she struck a deal with Samajwadi Party for a Rajya Sabha berth in return of her party’s support to SP candidates on the two Lok Sabha by-poll seats.
What helped Mayawati to extend support to SP was the choice of candidates by Akhilesh Yadav in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. He gave the party symbol and tickets to Praveen Nishad, son of Nishad Party Chief Dr Sanjay Nishad, in Nishad-dominated Gorakhpur. Nishads have a population of about 2.5 lakhs or 17 per cent of the total electorate in Yogi’s hometown.
Similarly, he made Nagendra Pratap Singh Patel party nominee in Patel-dominated Phulpur. Dalits (22 %), Patels (17 %) and Muslims (17 %) decide the fate of candidates in Phulpur. The Samajwadi Party had also entered into a tacit understanding with breakway Apna Dal faction, led by Union minister Anupriya Patel’s mother Krishna Patel, to muster support of Patels for the party candidate.
With support from the BSP, the dalit-backward-Muslim caste alliance enabled Samajwadi Party candidates wresting the Lok Sabha seat from the BJP.
In fact, Akhilesh Yadav played some masterstrokes ahead of the by-polls. Learning political lessons from BJP boss Shah’s experiment of roping in support of smaller parties like JBSP and Apna Dal during 2017 Assembly polls, Yadav too forged ties with smaller parties ahead of the by-polls.
He entered into pre-poll alliance with Nishad party and Peace Party to consolidate his party’s backward and Muslim vote-bank further. Both parties have considerable support base in Eastern UP. Nishads were once supporters of Yogi Adityanath due to their proximity to Gorakhnath Mutt. Showing political maturity, Akhilesh alienated them from the BJP candidate by entering into an alliance with Nishad Party and giving ticket to Pravin Nishad.
Once support from Mayawati was ensured, Rahstriya Lok Dal (RLD), NCP, CPI, CPM, CPI-ML, Forward Bloc, Prgatisheel Manav Samaj Party too decided to support SP candidates against the BJP. It sent a message across to all non-BJP parties that the SP was serious about opposition unity and reaching out to all political outfits, castes and communities to take on the BJP.
Tactically, Akhilesh Yadav did not request Congress candidates to withdraw from the by-polls, as they would only erode the BSP-SP combine vote-bank by cutting votes of the BJP candidates.
So many political developments were on ahead of by-polls, but the BJP Central and state leadership chose to turn a blind eye on the new political equations emerging against party candidates. “Alliances are decided by the Central leadership, why blame Yogiji,” slammed a senior leader close to Chief Minister.
In fact, like Kalyan Singh in 1991-92, Yogi Adityanath too has ignored the party cadre during his one-year rule. The result was poor voter turnout during the by-polls on both seats, particularly in urban pockets, from where BJP traditional voters come. Gorakhour recorded only 43 per cent against 54.6 per cent in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Only 38 per cent voted in Phulpur against 50.2 per cent in 2014.
“The party cadre did not take any interest in taking out BJP supporters to cast their votes due to the indifference meted out to them in the one year of party rule in the state,” admitted a senior party functionary.
Sudden rise to power and glory brings in political arrogance and Yogi Adityanath was no exception. A firebrand Hindutva torch-bearer, he copied PM Narendra Modi to start off his innings as Chief Minister. What followed was political ‘jumlebaazi’: tall but false promises with no delivery mechanism in place to ensure benefits reaching to the people of schemes launched, indifferent bureaucracy, no coordination between government and party organisation.
His statement in public and then on the floor of UP Assembly that “he is a devout Hindu and will not celebrate Eid” did not go down well with Muslims and secular-minded people. Against his announcement of 10,00,000houses under PM Awas Yojana, only 5,000 have been constructed so far. Eight thermal power houses have so far been shut under him but only one solar power plant with 75 MW capacity has been energised. But he talks of 24 power supply and 1.5 crore new power connections.
About Rs 4.28 lakh crore worth MoUs were signed during the much-hyped UP Investors Summit last month but how many will translate into actually establishing projects in the state to speed up industrial development and create job avenues has been sharply contested. Yogi will require another term to reap their benefits. For, projects are not executed in a month or year’s time.
In Uttar Pradesh, false figures don’t match with people’s expectations. People want results and benefits of schemes reaching to them. They overthrew two majority governments of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav since 2007 and gave a whopping majority to the BJP and its allies. Their expectations are very high. If present political dispensation fails to deliver in time, it may also meet the same fate.
Yogi Adityanath may have succeeded in campaigning for BJP in the other states but he is fast losing ‘people connect’ back home, and his grip over administration to provide good governance he had promised to people of the state.
BJP’s rout on two prestigious Lok Sabha seats in by-polls in Uttar Pradesh is just a trailer to the fast changing political equations and realty in UP. The BSP, SP, Congress, RLD and other smaller non-BJP may form a bigger alliance to stop Modi government returning to power in 2019.
People of the state have already served a wake-up call to the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanth and the BJP top leadership. It is time for the BJP leadership to do some serious introspection ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls rather to get involved in mud-slinging and hatching political conspiracy against one another within the party.
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