Mahant Pratap Puri, an Adityanath-backed Hindu leader, narrowly lost to Congress’ Saleh Mohammad, whose father is a popular leader of Sindhi Muslims.
New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s shrill campaign, aimed at polarising Hindu votes, failed to cut much ice with the voters in Rajasthan, and this was amply evident in the 11 December assembly poll results, as the Congress defeated the incumbent BJP.
But what might be a bigger setback for Adityanath is the defeat of the BJP candidate from Pokhran, Mahant Pratap Puri, at the hands of Congress’ Saleh Mohammad, son of Muslim religious leader Gazi Fakir.
Puri lost a close fight by a mere 872 votes, less than the votes NOTA received (1,121).
Puri, the head priest of Barmer’s Taratara sect, was given a ticket to go up against Saleh just two days before nominations closed. BJP sources said the mahant had the backing of Adityanath, who heads the Nath sect and is mahant of the Gorakhnath math.
Political analysts say Puri’s defeat should be a wake-up call for BJP strategists that Adityanath’s popularity as a polarising star campaigner is on the wane.
Lay of the land
Pokhran, famous for being the site of India’s nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998, lies in Jaisalmer district in the Thar Desert, just over 200 kilometres from Pakistan. According to the 2011 Religion Census of the district, 87.91 per cent of the total population of 23,554 in Pokhran municipality was Hindu, while Muslims constituted 11.44 per cent.
Saleh’s father Gazi Fakir has sizeable influence over the Sindhi Muslims in the region.
Saleh had battled the BJP’s Shaitan Singh in 2008 and 2013, winning as the Congress came to power in 2008, and losing as it was swept away by a BJP wave in 2013.
The campaign in Pokhran came to a head on 26 November, a day when both Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Adityanath held rallies.
This was where Adityanath spoke about Gandhi’s gotra, among other things.
“Today, the Congress president had also come here, and I was surprised that when he went to Ajmer Sharif in the morning, he said he has a gotra. His great-grandfather (Jawaharlal Nehru) used to say that he is an accidental Hindu, but now, his fourth generation descendant says ‘I am from this gotra‘,” Adityanath had said.
“This is not only an ideological victory for our politics but goes on to show that a Hindu is eternal and true.”
Apart from Adityanath, even Puri, who got an EC notice for asking for votes on the basis of religion, and district BJP president Jugal Kishore Vyas, who echoed the the UP chief minister’s own ‘Ali vs Bajrangbali’ statement, made polarising comments during the campaign.
‘Deliberate attempt to polarise’
Badri Narayan, political analyst and professor at Allahabad’s G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, said the BJP’s attempts to polarise the election were deliberate.
“It was done to whip up communal passions. But the results are an indication that people can see through such divisive politics,” he said.
Ashfaq Kayamkhani, a social activist, pointed out that “the Dalit and Jat vote also went to the Congress”.
Political commentators said there were other pressing concerns in Pokhran, such as scarcity of drinking water, which barely found mention during the campaign.
Narayan said the results, especially the NOTA margin, “reflected that the voters were angry with BJP”.
Kayamkhani said: “Unlike in Uttar Pradesh, the Muslims or Hindus here are not fundamentalists. The state’s culture is very different. People don’t get swayed by communally-divisive politics.”