The campaign of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to win back Gorakhpur; a bastion it lost after three decades to the SP-BSP alliance in the March 2018 Lok Sabha by-poll, is as much about rallies and road shows by party’s big leaders as about taking care of “chhoti-chhoti baatein (small things)”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had in February chosen Gorakhpur to launch Rs 75,000-crore PM-KISAN Scheme, held a rally in the vicinity on Sunday.

The venue of the rally was chosen carefully so as to cover Maharajganj and Kushinagar Lok Sabha constituencies, along with Gorakhpur, which was barely 70 kilometres from the rally site. Modi targeted Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati who claims support of Dalits, which after Nishads, are second most influential voters in Gorakhpur.

Yogi Adityanath, who represented Gorakhpur since 1998 until he quit the seat after taking over as UP chief minister in 2017, has already addressed over two dozen rallies.

BJP president Amit Shah is set to lead a road show in Gorakhpur on Thursday to give a boost to the party’s campaign in a region where the party has fielded a Brahmin Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan who, according to BJP leaders, enjoys the blessings of Adityanath, unlike Upendra Shukla, the party’s by-poll candidate.

UP minister Mahendra Singh has also been asked to camp in the region to fuel the party’s campaign ahead of the May 19 polling.

Also Read | Lok Sabha 2019 constituency: Battle for UP’s Gorakhpur will be most watched

While the focus is on big leaders campaigning in an area from where Adityanath got the title of ‘Yogi’ and from where he is the head priest of the influential Gorakhnath Mutt, the BJP campaign managers are busy guarding against what an RSS leader described as “vishwas ka atirek (overconfidence)”.

“We are guarding against complacency that led to the loss in by-elections. This time, you will see how despite the caste alliance, BJP reclaims Gorakhpur with a big margin,” said party leader Satyendra Sinha.

The focus this time is on ensuring a high voter turnout. In the 2018 by-polls, the urban assembly segment that houses Adityanath’s Gorakhnath Mutt, barely 37.76 per cent voters had turned up to cast their vote; the lowest among all the five assembly segments that make up Gorakhpur.

This time party is back to the old drill. Nearly all party campaigns, be it rallies or street corner meets, has one underlining theme — urging the community to cast their vote.

“We are ensuring that voter slips reach people and that all go out and vote,” Sinha said. Gorakhpur has an estimated 20 lakh voters, 3.5 lakh of whom belong to Nishad community followed by Dalits and upper castes and the party foot soldiers are busy reaching out to them.

“Last time even I didn’t vote. It was a mistake which we won’t make again,” said Suresh Singh, a diehard BJP supporter.

In the by-polls, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav had fielded Pravin Nishad, a candidate of the Nishad community, on his party ticket. Backed by the BSP, Nishad stunned the BJP.

This time too, the SP has fielded a Nishad candidate who is backed by the BSP. According to BJP leaders, there are about 3.5 lakh members of Nishad community in Gorakhpur.

Also Read | Lok Sabha Elections 2019 : SP ‘tweaks’ bypoll formula on 3 seats it won in 2018

However, the BJP has also won over Nishads by fielding sitting Gorakhpur MP Pravin Nishad, son of Nishad party chief Sanjay Nishad, from Sant Kabir Nagar.

Alliance candidate Ram Bhuwal Nishad, however, claims that the BJP would again be taken by surprise. “They have an actor as their candidate. I have the support of the poor and marginalised,” he said.

The BJP’s by-poll loss was also attributed to the party not fielding a candidate from the Mutt; something it had been doing for 29 years. This time too, the BJP candidate isn’t from the Mutt.

“But the big difference between then and now is that while the by-poll candidate was literally thrust on Yogi by the party, this time the candidate enjoys Yogi’s blessings and party’s consent,” a BJP leader, not willing to be named, said.

Ravi Kishan’s campaign is largely centred around appealing for votes in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Yogi Adityanath as well as various initiatives of the BJP government.

He keeps an entire list of achievements and developments carried out in the region under the Modi government and since Yogi took over as UP CM. The pitch that he is an outsider has now been negated by our counter campaign that Gorakhpur would vote for Modi,” a BJP leader said.

In support of Ravi Kishan, the CM has been telling the people that if the actor wins, he would set up a Bhojpuri film studio and provide jobs to nearly a lakh youths.

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First Published:
May 14, 2019 10:14 IST

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