The Samajwadi Party (SP), with the backing of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), on Wednesday, seems to be putting up a spectacular show in the high-stakes Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha bye-elections. At last count, the party was racing ahead of the BJP by a margin of 38,000 votes in Phulpur; in Gorakhpur it is ahead by 26,000 votes. If the BJP is defeated in both seats or either, the SP-BSP team of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati could well pave way for a similar and larger alliance against the saffron party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The SP has fielded Pravin Nishad from Gorakhpur and Nagendra Pratap Singh Patel from Phulpur against BJP’s Kaushalendra Singh Patel and Upendra Dutt Shukla, respectively. The Congress, meanwhile, trailing in both seats, has nominated Sureetha Kareem for Gorakhpur and Manish Mishra for Phulpur.
As part of the understanding, the BSP has seemingly successfully transferred its Dalit vote bank in favour of SP and the SP-BSP coalition also captured Nishad community votes that number more than 3 lakh in Gorakhpur alone.
This bye-election in Gorakhpur was important not only for Adityanath, whose one-year work in the district was being put to test, but also for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had promised superspecialty healthcare and employment opportunities in eastern UP when he laid the foundation stone of an AIIMS and promised revival of a fertiliser factory in Gorakhpur in 2016. The deaths of a large number of children at BRD medical college last year drew criticism for the BJP government. Akhilesh, in his bypoll campaign, had raised the issue, alleging that children had died owing to shortage of oxygen and a fresh inquiry will be conducted when SP will come to power in the state in 2022.
The two constituencies went to polls last Sunday. Phulpur recorded a voter turnout of 37.39 per cent, while Gorakhpur saw 47.45 per cent voting. The bypolls were necessitated after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya vacated the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats, respectively after their election to the state legislative council.
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Adityanath has represented Gorakhpur seat in the Lok Sabha five times, winning the last elections in 2014 with a margin of 3.13 lakh votes. Before him, his mentor Yogi Avaidyanath was MP from the seat for two terms, in 1991 and 1993. The SP has been the runner-up on Gorakhpur seat many times before, while it had won the Phulpur seat four times since 1996. BJP won Phulphur Lok Sabha seat for the first time in 2014 when Maurya won by a margin of over 3 lakh votes.
For the Congress, Phulpur is a prestigious seat as it was once represented by former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Over the years, however, the party lost its grip over the seat. As of now, the SP-BSP alliance has isolated the Congress completely.
BJP and its ally Apna Dal had won 73 of 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, and 325 out of 403 seats in the 2017 Assembly elections.