The spotlight will be on the Gorakhpur and the Phulpur Lok Sabha bypolls in Uttar Pradesh with the recent Amethi visits of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and BJP chief Amit Shah and the SP national convention in Agra setting the stage for a high-octane contest. Though no date has been announced by the Election Commission (EC) for the by-elections, the two seats will go to polls in the near future as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya vacated them after becoming MLCs. The BJP will put its best foot forward to ensure that it retains both the parliamentary seats, while the Congress and the Samajwadi Party will make every effort to wrest them in order to send a strong message before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. A win in the bypolls could also set the tone for the 2022 state Assembly elections.
Both the seats are significant as Gorakhpur has been a traditional stronghold of the BJP since 1991 while in Phulpur, the saffron party won for the first time in 2014 and will not like the constituency to slip out of its grip. Expressing confidence that the party will perform better in the parliamentary bye-elections, UP BJP spokesperson Manish Shukla said, “Undoubtedly, the BJP will not only emerge victorious in both the by-polls, it will also improve its victory margin.” In Phulpur, Maurya had defeated his nearest SP rival by 3,08,308 votes, while in Gorakhpur, Adityanath had defeated his SP rival by 3,12,783 votes. Asked what makes the party believe that it will improve its margin in the bypolls to the Lok Sabha seat, Shukla said, “The public welfare work which is being done by the UP government and that too in a short span of six months drops enough hints that the party will retain both the seats rather comfortably.”
Taking a jibe at the Opposition, which has accused the BJP of not practising what it preached, he said, “The Opposition is only interested in BJP bashing.” “Even during 2017 UP Assembly elections, they had said the BJP will not be able to repeat the grand performance it had put up in 2014 Lok Sabha polls in UP. But, despite this we (along with our allies) were able to win 325 of the 403 Assembly seats,” Shukla said. Last week, the BJP’s top leaders descended on “Nehru- Gandhi family bastion” Amethi, with party chief Shah questioning Congress Rahul Gandhi over development in his Lok Sabha constituency and slamming him for mocking Gujarat’s development. Shah, Union minister Smriti Irani and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister had targeted Gandhi.
Earlier, Gandhi, during his Amethi visit, had accused the BJP governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh of re- inaugurating the projects launched by the previous UPA regime in the district. Even though the Samajwadi Party had finished runners up in both the seats last time, its electoral ally Congress has also made up its mind to contest the bye-elections. “We will definitely contest the Lok Sabha bypolls. Modalities in this regard are being worked out,” party spokesperson Hilal Ahmad said. Samajwadi Party has claimed that it was ready to contest the bypolls. “Our preparations down to the booth level are almost complete and we are just waiting for the EC to announce the poll schedule,” SP MLC and party spokesperson Sunil Singh Sajan said.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav told the party’s Agra convention last week that the two key by-elections will give his party a chance to gauge which way the wind is blowing months after it faced a rout in the Assembly polls. Yadav has already said if results of the elections were in “our favour, it will give a message not only for the 2019 (Lok Sabha polls), but also for the 2022 (assembly polls)”. Exhorting party workers to strengthen the organisation, he had said the SP should emerge as a big force in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In such a scenario, a split in opposition votes might help the BJP. There was no word from the BSP so far as to whether the party will throw its hat in the ring.
Usually, Mayawati’s party stays away from by-polls, but with the scenario different this time, nothing could be said right now, party insiders said. During its heydays, Phulpur constituency was represented by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Congress leader Vijay Lakshmi Pandit. In 2014, Maurya had bagged 5,03,564 votes (52.43 per cent of the votes polled) to give BJP its maiden victory in the parliamentary constituency, which was earlier represented by the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Gorakhpur saw Adityanath emerging victorious by securing 5,39,127 votes (51.80 per cent of the votes polled) in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Adityanath started his winning streak in this Lok Sabha constituency from 1998 and continued it without break till 2014.