Was Shukla sent to Gorakhpur to downsize Adityanath ?
It may appear abrupt, even abrasive but it is not without reason. Was there a design behind choosing an outsider to be BJP candidate for the parliamentary by-election in Gorakhpur. As it is the defeat of BJP candidates, in parliamentary by-elections in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur constituencies was a double blow just when Yogi Adityanath was preparing to celebrate one year of record victory in the UP state assembly election. It seemingly rocked the Yogi, especially the defeat of Gorakhpur, which was a sort of his jagir, he having won five times from there. Before him the earlier mahant whom Yogi Adityanath succeeded had been elected from there. Thus Gorakhpur has been saffron for over 30 years. Its loss brought Yogi, who was fast becoming a shining star in the Party, crashing down.
This is the impression that some have sought to create. But what is the reality? The parachuting a rank outsider to be the BJP candidate in Gorakhpur, has ripped the lid off the internal politics that could harm the BJP and Modi.
The candidate chosen by the BJP central leadership Upendra Shukla was not acceptable to the rank and file of the party. In fact, the very moment his name was announced, discontent at his selection was apparent. Local leaders and workers openly opposed Shukla’s nomination, but to no avail. Shukla remained the BJP candidate and he fought and lost.
The jubilation in the opposition camp should have been expected because even SP-BSP combine could not think they could win in Gorakhpur. it has been, as already said earlier, an unchallenged citadel of Yogi Adityanath for 30 long years. From his mutt, he ran a sort of a local government, CEO, and his writ runs in Gorakhpur and adjoining areas. It still does despite the impression sought to be created that he is a spent force—he could not save a seat which he won five times. That raises the question: was he keen that the BJP retains the seat the sixth time?
Some measures he took post-election do not show he was upset. He transferred the District Magistrate on promotion, the SP was also posted out but it was not a punitive one, the opposition called it a sham, And to top it all, it is business as usual at the mutt.
All this is not to say that the BJP has nothing to fret about. According to polls analysts, if the SP-BSP pact continues till 2019 election BJP could lose over 50 seats out of 80. But pacts in politics are not made on the basis of arithmetic, it is difficult to visualise Mayawati bua letting initiative slip into the hands of bhatija Akhilesh.
But even if the alliance continues, one has seen that in Gorakhpur instead of centrally-thrust nominee, some one local with links with the mutt could win. A seasoned political commentator, said the defeat of the BJP candidate, in the parliamentary by-election in Gorakhpur, did not surprise him. He explained, ‘The selection of the candidate was similar to that of candidates for Bihar assembly. The recommendations of MPs of the state were ignored with the result they were indifferent during campaigning.’
Like in Bihar, Upendra Shukla was chosen by the Central ‘leadership. Yogi Adityanath had recommended three names, all of whom were connected with the mutt in some capacity or other. But he was obviously over-ruled, which could only be done by Shah. It led to rumours that in the booth in the mutt only around 45 votes were cast in favour of Shukla, despite the fact that the mutt has over 150 workers. That Yogi did not cooperate.
Both rumours have been denied. Yogi addressed 16 meetings. But the Hindus did not come out to vote. Yogi Adityanath has explained this as complacence. Rather a lame excuse and he being a very shrewd man possibly knows it.
The question, very crucial in view of election next year, is: why was the recommendation of a chief minister and moreover one who knows Gorakhpur like palm of his hand was over-ruled? There seems to be no other reason than the ‘concern’ at the pace of rise of Yogi Adityanath in the party. Ironically, the morning a report on his completion of one year as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister came out praising him for restoring law and order, free and fair examinations and for reaching power to villages and building network of roads, the very late afternoon disaster in Gorakhpur was announced. Were the mandarins in Delhi happy, had they cut Yogi to the size they wanted him to be. Not really?
A close look at the Gorakhpur poll is illuminating. I quote from a political analyst: “In 2014, when the BJP won an unprecedented 71 Lok Sabha seats from UP, it received 42.6 per cent of the votes in Gorakhpur. Even then, the combined vote share of the SP and BSP matched the BJP’s. In 2017, when the BJP swept the UP assembly elections with 312 seats, it got 40 per cent of the vote, and SP+BSP was substantially greater at 44.4 per cent.
“So, the main reason for the loss at Gorakhpur is the combined vote share of two regional satraps who have ruled UP for a couple of decades and created committed caste and community-based vote banks.
“In 2014, Adityanath won the Gorakhpur seat with a margin of more than 3 lakh votes but in the by-polls, SP candidate Praveen Kumar Nishad won only by a margin of 21,000 votes.” this political analyst has very well analysed to prove that any candidate connected with the mutt could have won.
“Every parliamentary seat has around 2,000 polling booths and every booth has around 1,000 votes. A margin of 21,000 votes can be reversed just by improving the vote share in two to three dozen booths.” Possibly this would have happened if one of Yogi’s nominees was the BJP candidate.
Moreover, a larger exercise of seat-sharing for the 80 seats in UP between SP, BSP and the Congress in 2019 will not be a smooth exercise, given the complex electoral arithmetic and clashing egos.
But coming back to the speculation that leadership in Delhi wants to downsize the Yogi, we have to note that his phenomenal rise, firmness and decisiveness has led to the speculation that he is the potential Prime Minister of India, in the post-Modi era. Now this is a development that someone in Delhi would certainly abhor. The hurry with which Yogi was being written off after Gorakhpur was lost, made it evident that Upendra Shukla was used as a catalyst to downsize Adityanath. Significantly, Amit Shah after the polls praised Yogi and said UP was the best administered state. He is ravenous for power and Shah, a modern Chankaya, knows that he must win maximum seats in the state to be able to muster majority in the Lok Sabha. And he must have also realised that he can’t hope to do well in UP, he needs Yogi Adityanath for a repeat of 2014 when BJP won 71 out of 80 seats. Personal influence of the Yogi runs in east, north and central UP. In the exigencies of politics, Upendra Shukla will be reduced to be an aberration.
The Yogi has now become an integral part of the BJP. He just can’t be wished away. Shah and Modi need him and he is no threat to them. His claim for a national role will only be possible in the post-Modi/Shah era.
But Shuklas can’t downsize him. As a columnist put it,“Adityanath is only 45 years old and has already spent 19 years in Parliament and is the chief minister of the most populous state in India. By 2024, with perhaps two terms as chief minister and 19 years as MP in his resume, and with his popularity seen in rallies and social media, he certainly will be a candidate for a bigger role on the national stage. It will be naive to write him off as a political force just on the basis of the Gorakhpur loss.”
By Vijay Dutt