Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan who crossed over from the Congress two years ago is the BJP candidate from chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s Gorakhpur that voted the BJP for decades before a united opposition delivered a stunning victory in the 2017 by-election.
Two years later, there are clear cracks in the opposition camp. Praveen Nishad, who won the seat in 2017 by polls as the joint opposition candidate, has crossed over to the BJP and is being fielded from the neighboring Sant Kabir Nagar seat.
The BJP’s sitting Sant Kabir Nagar MP, Sharad Tripathi, who had made headlines earlier this year when he was taped on video thrashing a legislator with a shoe at an official meeting, has been dropped. The two lawmakers were reported to have been squabbling over the plaque before the argument got out of hand.
The Tripathi family, however, has been accommodated in Monday’s list of six candidates. The sitting MP’s father Ramapati Ram Tripathi who led the BJP’s state unit between 2007 and 2010, has been fielded from the Deoria seat. The seat was held by veteran Kalraj Mishra who had opted out of the electoral race since he was over 75.
The BJP also announced Sangam Lal Gupta from Pratapgarh, Mukut Bihari from Ambedkar Nagar, KP Singh from Jaunpur and Ramesh Bind from Bhadohi.
But it will be the battle in Gorakhpur that will vote in the seventh phase that will be most watched. The 2017 bypolls surprise victory had set a template for the opposition alliance for the national election. But the effort by Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party suffered a serious setback when Praveen Nishad teamed up with the BSP-SP alliance and then quickly swapped sides.
The SP-BSP alliance has fielded Rambhuyan Nishad. With a population of about 3.5 lakh, the Nishad (boatmen) community has a significant presence in the Gorakhpur region and comprises 14% of the state’s population.
Bhojpuri star Ravi Kishan contested from the Jaunpur seat on a Congress ticket in 2014 but managed to secure only over 4% votes. After he moved to the BJP in 2017, he had his eyes set on Gorakhpur. BJP leaders had described the Bhojpuri star as a consensus candidate who neither represents the temple or the Gorakhnath Mutt of which Yogi Adityanath is the head priest, nor the party but has the support of both.
The Mahants of Gorakhnath Mutt have dominated politics in the Gorakhpur region since the late 1980s. Adityanath won the Gorakhpur seat five times in a row in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014. Earlier, the seat was represented by his guru Mahant Avaidyanath for three terms: 1989, 1991 and 1996.
Avaidyanath also won a by-poll held in 1970 after the death of his guru Mahant Digvijay Nath, who won the seat in the 1967 Lok Sabha election.