With just a year left for the general elections, all eyes are on the BJP as it fights to retain the Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats in the upcoming byelections, necessitated after they were vacated by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya. The bypolls are being seen as a matter of prestige to the BJP. But the Congress and the SP, allies in last year’s UP Assembly elections, will likely be going it alone in the bypolls.
While many see it as making it things easier for the BJP through a vote split, the two opposition parties seem to have the confidence of a large section of its workers and leaders.
“We would go alone on both seats as we are strong on both and will give a tough fight to the candidates of other political parties. Our candidates are almost decided and would be announced tomorrow,” said Samajwadi Party spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary on Wednesday.
Similarly, Congress’s Gorakhpur and Allahabad district chiefs Syed Jamal Ahmed and Anil Dwivedi said that they have been told by the party leadership to go alone and have already sent a panel of candidates on both the seats. Congress Legislature Party leader Ajay Kumar “Lallu” said, “discussions are going on and soon party would declare candidates on both the seats.”
The SP may have some momentum coming into the race – it was the runner-up on Gorakhpur seat many times before, while it had won the Phulpur seat four times since 1996.
The Phulpur Lok Sabha constituency is backward caste-dominated. Sources in the BJP said that the top-contender from the party includes the renowned orthopedic doctor U V Yadav, considered close to the RSS, and former zila panchayat chairman Kesari Devi Patel. The party could also go with a Nishad candidate, considering the dominance of the caste in the region.
Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya had represented the constituency till he was chosen to the state government. There is talk of him having hoped to convince the party leadership to field his wife or son. But since the party had attacked the Opposition of encouraging dynastic politics, Maurya will now support another candidate.
For the Congress, Phulpur is a prestigious seat as it was once represented by former prime minister Jawahar lal Nehru. However, over the years, party had lost its grip over the seat. Sources inform that this time, party is considering name of Anil Shastri, son of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shashti from the seat, among other names.
The sensitive Gorakhpur seat was held by mahants of Gorakhnath Peeth since 1984, including CM Yogi Adityanath.
“Bahut dino baad yeh seat matth ke bahar jayegi is liye yeh sensitive ho jati hai (After many years, this seat may go outside the math, so it is very sensitive),” said a BJP leader in Gorakhpur, adding, “The candidate on the seat would also make it clear that who had a final word in the selection, either the party or Yogi ji.”
Among the various names being considered are Upendra Shukla, president of Gorakhpur region of BJP or Fatehbahadur Singh, who is son of former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Veer Bahadur Singh and also MLA from Campiyarganj seat in Gorakhpur, say BJP sources.
For the Congress, sources inform a local businessman Pawan Barthwal and a doctor Surhita Kareem are among the top contenders.
SP may consider BJP rebel leader Ram Bhual or former MLA Rajmati Nishad, who is the wife of late Jamuna Prasad Nishad who had given a close contest to Adityanath in the past
The BSP would continue with the tradition of not contesting by-elections.
Nominations to the seats began on February 13. Polling will be on March 11.