Lucknow: Reading books at home to seeking temple blessings, from closed-door strategy meetings to avoiding people — this is how Maneka Gandhi, Yogi Adityanath, Mayawati and Azam Khan have beaten the poll blues in UP after the Election Commission (EC) of India stopped their campaigns temporarily.
Starting Tuesday morning, for a period of either 48 or 72 hours, these four politicians were barred from campaigning for different reasons.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath got himself pulled out of canvassing for 72 hours over his communal remarks, while Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, contesting from Rampur, invited a three-day bar for his objectionable public statement against BJP rival Jaya Prada.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati had to pause her campaign for 48 hours after the EC took note of her allegedly communal appeal for votes, and Union minister Maneka Gandhi was forced off the campaign trail for her alleged threat to Muslim voters.
Temples and a message?
During the 72 hours that Adityanath was off the electioneering grid, he had to miss two public meetings, at Nagina and Fatehpur Sikri.
The UP Chief Minister, however, returned to his mahant duties, with his public relations office going into overdrive to list the slew of activities the Gorkhnath peeth head priest undertook.
Adityanath, barred from campaigning over his “Ali and Bajrangbali” remarks, seemed to have framed an itinerary meant to send a message to voters: He visited three different Bajrangbali or Hanuman temples in three different cities — Lucknow, Ayodhya and Varanasi — on each day of the EC ban.
On the first day of the bar, starting 6 am Tuesday, the CM was in Lucknow, where he visited a Hanuman Temple for around 25 minutes and recited the Hanuman Chalisa, his office said in a statement.
“By this move, Yogi conveyed in his own style that he will stick to his stand on Bajrangbali, keeping the model code of conduct and order of Election Commission in mind,” the statement, issued Tuesday, added.
“After performing puja at the temple, Yogi did not interact with the media present there. He smiled when asked questions,” the statement said.
On Wednesday, Adityanath landed in Ayodhya, where he visited the Ramlalla at the disputed Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid site, and also stopped by the Hanumangarhi temple. He wrapped up the trip by offering prayers at the Saryu bank, Sugriva fort and a Devipatan temple in Balrampur, his office said.
The UP Chief Minister was in Varanasi on the final day of the ban, paying obeisance at yet another Hanuman temple.
The optics of his appointments included meetings with a myriad group of people over the three days — a Dalit family headed by a man called Mahavira (another name for Hindu god Hanuman) with whom he had lunch, seers, a group of differently-abled school girls in Lucknow, triple talaq victims, and Varanasi’s mayor, who is undergoing treatment at a local hospital.
The other three barred politicians seemed to have kept under the radar, limiting themselves to their respective homes and constituencies.
Gandhi, contesting the Lok Sabha election from Sultanpur, used the campaign bar as a break, a BJP leader told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
“Maneka Gandhiji has spent most of her time at home, reading books,” the leader said. “She has not held any public meeting due to the EC ban and used the time to take a break from the hectic campaigning schedule.”
According to BSP sources, for much of the two days, Mayawati was at her Mall Avenue residence in Lucknow, “holding meetings with party leaders with regard to the campaigning”.
While she had to skip the joint SP-BSP-RLD rally in Agra Tuesday, her nephew Aakash Anand addressed the gathering on her behalf. Another Mayawati rally during this time, scheduled to take place in Ahmedabad, was also cancelled, the sources said.
Azam Khan, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen. Even as Samajwadi Party leaders maintained that he was camping at his residence in Rampur, his son Abdullah cried foul over the EC action, claiming that Khan had been discriminated against due to his religion.