The politics of Gorakhpur constituency, which will go to polls in the last phase of the
Lok Sabha elections on May 19, is caked in religion and caste.
The main priests of the Gorakhnath temple, a succession of white and red marble-paved buildings located in the heart of the town, have been elected MP since 1989. This includes fiery BJP leader Yogi Adityanath who was first elected as MP in 1999 and vacated the seat to take the chief minister’s chair in 2017.
But in the 2018 by-election, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who are as strange political bedfellows as they come, defeated BJP candidate Upendra Dutt Shukla, handpicked by Adityanath.
Classic caste politics was at play. The SP-BSP combine’s candidate was Praveen Kumar Nishad, a member of the Nishad community, which has significant numbers in these parts of Uttar Pradesh. He also collected votes from Yadavs, Dalits and Muslims. Brahmins, Khayasts and Thakurs sided with BJP’s Shukla, who fell short by around 20,000 votes.
For a region steeped in history of vote divisions along the lines of caste and religion, to check if there is any other critical issue in elections would not be very different from searching for a needle in a haystack. Yet, surprise, surprise — development is an issue among voters in Gorakhpur.
The CM's Constituency
As CM, Adityanath has brought an All India Institute of Medical Sciences to Gorakhpur. Construction of the main wing is still in progress, but in February, an outpatient division focussed on paediatrics, surgery and gynaecology opened. The unit draws people from not just Gorakhpur and surrounding areas, but also from the neighbouring districts of Bihar and even Nepal.
Adityanath also played a starring role in reviving a fertiliser factory under the aegis of Hindustan Urvarak and Rasayan Limited. Construction has begun at a furious pace and the air is filled with the promise of jobs.
Voters also acknowledge that the condition of roads and sanitation has improved sharply in recent months. Some of the residents even credit Adityanath with increasing flights to the city even though for airlines such as IndiGo and SpiceJet, flying to Gorakhpur makes eminent commercial sense given the traffic potential in terms of trade to Nepal and religious tourism to Kushi Nagar, a popular destination for Buddhists.
Politicians Speak A Different Language
Though development is in the minds of voters, you might have to strain hard to hear
vikas in the speeches of politicians in Gorakhpur, including those by the man who should be credited for that. The CM’s speeches are tone heavy in nationalism, Dalit uplift, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s deeds.
election commission had banned Adityanath last month from campaigning for three days for his anti-Muslim comments. The commission said the CM had spoken about a “green virus” in one of his speeches, referring to Muslim voters.
Adityanath has tempered his speeches since then. But there is hardly a mention of the commendable work he has done in Gorakhpur.
BJP candidate Ravi Kishan, a popular Bhojpuri actor, is expectedly following the caste and religion rulebook. Kishan has slipped into the politician’s role effortlessly, dressed to the nines in saffron. He introduces himself as Ravindra Shyamnarayan Shukla, reminding voters of his upper caste.
Yet, it is a cameo. The protagonist of the Gorakhpur election campaign is Adityanath himself. He cannot afford another defeat and has spent several days in Gorakhpur driving the campaign.
Kishan is contesting against a different Nishad of the SP this time — SP’s Rambhual Nishad. Wondering what happened to Praveen Kumar Nishad?
Well, as it so often happens in Indian politics, Praveen Nishad joined the BJP before the elections. He has been whisked away to contest from Sant Kabir Nagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh, perhaps to avoid uncomfortable questions from voters about the sudden change of political heart.
In 2014, Adityanath won with a margin of 3,12,783 votes and secured 30.31 percent of the vote share. This time around, the close victory margin in the by-elections and the opposing castes of the main contestants make Gorakhpur an intriguing electoral battle.Stacked against this alluring backdrop, development might turn out to be a decisive factor in victory. Even if politicians are ignoring it.