Slogans of "Bua-Bhatija zindabad" hailing the political alliance forged between Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati reverberated in Gorakhpur as results of the by-poll trickled in. Supporters of both regional parties read it as a sign of the Narendra Modi wave waning and anti-incumbency building up against chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
A closer analysis of the caste arithmetic in Yogi's former constituency may, however, show that the loss could well have been a result of the internal squabbling in the Gorakhnath math, where Yogi himself is the mahant. A fight which has divided the upper and privileged Brahmin-Thakur combine down the middle.
Political experts say seeds of BJP’s defeat in the Gorakhpur by-polls were sown the day the party chose a Brahmin, Upendra Shukla, as its candidate. Had Shukla won, more than a victory for BJP, Modi or Yogi, it would have been a defeat for the Gorakhnath math. The BJP’s loss, thus, is somewhere a victory for the math, of which the Thakur chief minister Yogi Adityanath is the mahant.
Those who have followed Gorakhpur’s politics over the years know that power here has always been a Brahmins versus Thakurs tussle.
This tussle is not new, it began decades ago, when Digvijay Nath was the mahant of the math and Pandit Surtinarayan Tripathi was an influential Brahmin leader. Tripathi once insulted Digvijay Nath, and the two castes have since been locked in a battle of one-upmanship here.
Later, Brahmin youth leader Harishankar Tiwari opposed Digvijay Nath. As years went by, Veerendra Shahi emerged as the dominant Thakur leader, but the tussle continued between Harishankar Tiwari’s “haata” (courtyard) and Avaidyanath’s math.
In the '90s, Yogi Adityanath, a Thakur, took over the math. He strengthened the seat, even as his Hindu Yuva Vahini became active in several nearby districts. Meanwhile, in 1998, mafia don Shreeprakash Shukla, a powerful Brahmin leader, was killed in an encounter.
Gorakhpur has almost an equal number of Thakur and Brahmin votes, but as Adityanath rose, the Brahmin leadership became weaker. The influence of the “haata” declined. During this period, Shivpratap Shukla was the dominant Brahmin leader, but his political might was soon negligible compared with Adityanath’s. While Shukla soon disappeared, Adityanath’s stature grew in the state as well as in the country’s politics.
In fact, before the Modi-Amit Shah phase, there was a time when eastern UP saw a BJP versus Yogi phase. The candidate with his blessings would get poll tickets, those who did not have his backing would lose even if fighting on the BJP’s symbol. The BJP, thus, was forced to bow to to all of Yogi’s demands. His Yuva Vahini played an important role in this.
The 2017 state Assembly elections saw the BJP get an absolute majority. Several names were proposed for the CM’s post. Manoj Sinha was almost decided upon, but some say Yogi Adityanath pipped him to the post with support from the RSS. His elevation caused major discontent within the Brahmin community, which was conveyed to the BJP top brass.
Modi and Shah then took several damage control measures, including the appointment of Mahendra Pandey as head of the state party unit.
Well aware of the Brahmin-Thakur tussle in Purvanchal, the party looked for a Brahmin face to fight from Adityanath’s parliamentary seat, so power equations could be balanced.
After taking inputs from the BJP unit and the RSS, the leadership settled on Upendra Shukla as the candidate. However, sources say Adityanath was dead against the idea of power in Gorakhpur passing to a Brahmin. For the Yogi, more than saving his Lok Sabha seat, saving his math’s influence was more important.
Since the order of Shukla’s candidature had come straight from Amit Shah, it could not be openly opposed. But on the ground, a process was set in motion. While Adityanath campaigned for Shukla, his men dropped out of action.
Everyone knows that in Purvanchal, the BJP means Yogi and Yogi means his organised, dedicated cadre. Without his support, no candidate can dream of a win here. This time round, this cadre was conspicuous by its absence, even at the poll booths.
The SP and BSP workers, in contrast, were present in abundance, the result of which is there for everyone to see.
Addressing the media after the results showed that his citadel had been breached, Yogi Adityanath attributed the defeat to over confidence among party workers. Yogi, however, is well aware that this for him was a fight over influence on the math and Gorakhpur as a constituency. He said, the party will introspect, but he knows and so does the party, that this was one defeat the chief minister brought upon himself and the party. Yogi draws his strength from his influence over the party, the loss of Gorakhpur as a constituency seems to be a calculated risk on Yogi's part.
But this risk is likely to extract a greater price from the BJP's pie. While the Brahmin-Thakur divide has never been hidden, it is unlikely that Brahmins will forget that Upendra Shukla was just allowed to lose as Thakurs turned their backs on him. It will be difficult for them to let go.
Meanwhile, Amit Shah has a challenging task ahead. With the SP-BSP showing an intent of burying the hatchet and come together in this battle for political survival, Dalit-Yadav votes are likely to consolidate against the BJP. With the Brahmins-Thakurs bickering now out in the open, the clouds over UP look ominous for the saffron brigade.
(Courtesy of Aaj Tak)