While Varanasi is a contest of prestige, Gorakhpur is a battle for bastion and both will be watched keenly by pundits and commoners alike
Stakes are high for the BJP as high-decibel seats of Varanasi and Gorakhpur are all set to vote in the last phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections on May 19.
The world will be watching Varanasi as it is the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; while Gorakhpur is the citadel of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. It becomes important to note here that both Modi and Adityanath are considered star campaigners by the saffron party.
In the 2014 general elections, Narendra Modi had won Varanasi by a margin of 3.7 lakh votes, polling 58 percent votes from the seat. Not only that, he had trounced 41 candidates to win from the seat, of which 40 lost their deposits. The only candidate to get a significant number of votes was Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, but he too managed only 2 lakh votes.
This time too, the seat is going to be closely watched.
Samajwadi Party had earlier fielded Shalini Yadav, daughter-in-law of Shyamlal Yadav, who was elected MP from Varanasi in 1984.
The Akhilesh Yadav-led party later attempted to counter Modi’s ‘chowkidar’ campaign by fielding ex-BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav. But, the Election Commission rejected his nomination, saying he failed to submit a certificate that “he was not sacked for either corruption or disloyalty”.
As a result of this, SP finalized Shalini Yadav as their candidate from Varanasi. Shalini has only contested for the 2017 mayoral election on a Congress ticket, in which she came second after the BJP.
The Congress, on the other hand, has fielded Ajay Rai from Varanasi. Rai belongs to the Bhumihar community and has a considerable following among Bhumihars and Brahmins. He won the UP assembly elections from Kolasala seat three times in a row on a BJP ticket between 1996 and 2007. In 2009, he contested unsuccessfully against BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi (who won by a slender margin of 17,000 votes) on an SP ticket. It is noteworthy that Congress supporters in the constituency seemed to be demoralised when Priyanka Gandhi turned down her much-anticipated candidature from the seat.
Modi had promised to make Varanasi India’s Kyoto, the Japanese town famous for its temples. For this, the Centre had allocated a whopping Rs 30,000 crore in various development projects. The Kashi-Vishwanath corridor and Clean Ganga project are some popular ones.
Meanwhile, the SP-BSP-RLD gathbandhan, as well as the Congress, will be banking on the caste dynamic in Varanasi. Muslims form the largest chunk of the electorate here with around 3 lakh voters. They are followed by Brahmins (2.5 lakh), Kurmis (1.5 lakh), Yadavs (1.5 lakh), Bhumihars (1.5 lakh) and Dalits (80,000).
In the previous elections, the combined vote share of the gathbandhan was 10.7 percent, while Congress could poll only 7.3 percent. However, in 2009, the gathbandhan polled 46.6 percent votes against Murli Manohar Joshi’s 30.5 percent.
Such was his popularity that the first thing that came to mind when one said Gorakhpur was Yogi Adityanath. He had polled 54.6 percent votes and won the seat with a margin of over 3 lakh votes.
Once a mahant of the celebrated Gorakhnath temple, which stands tall at the centre of Gorakhpur, he was made the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh after his glorious victory. Adityanath had won the seat five times in a row between 1998 and 2014. Before that, Gorakhpur was held by Adityanath’s guru, Yogi Avaidyanath.
However, Adityanath had to vacate the seat to become chief minister, and bypolls were held in the seat in 2018. This is when the BJP lost its citadel to SP-BSP combine. This is also when SP-BSP realized the power of their combined vote share and dubbed it the ‘Gorakhpur model’.
This time around, the BJP has fielded Brahmin Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan, who according to party leaders enjoys the support of Adityanath as opposed to Upendra Shukla, the party’s bypoll candidate. While campaigning for Ravi Kishan, Adityanath is seen telling crowds that if the actor wins, he would set up a Bhojpuri film studio which would give employment to at least 1 lakh youth.
Contesting against him is SP’s Rambhuyan Nishad. Praveen Nishad, who had led the party to victory during the 2018 bypoll, joined the BJP recently but wasn't given a ticket. The Nishad community, which forms a significant chunk of voters in Gorakhpur, is apparently not happy with this move.While Varanasi is a contest of prestige, Gorakhpur is a battle for bastion and both will be watched keenly by pundits and commoners alike.