Lucknow/Gorakhpur: When a seat held by priests for 32 years is entrusted to an actor, a question begs to be asked: Why?
That was the dilemma in many minds as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan as its candidate from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh.
Won by the BJP for years through chief priests of the Gorakhnath mutt, the seat went to the Samajwadi Party, contesting with the support of arch rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), in the 2018 bypoll, which was called after incumbent MP Yogi Adityanath resigned to assume the post of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister.
According to BJP sources, the decision to field outsider Kishan, 49, was taken to choke infighting within the party’s Gorakhpur unit.
The internal assessment carried out by the BJP after its surprise loss in Gorakhpur last year, the sources said, suggested that cracks in the local party unit were a major factor.
It is said that there was intense lobbying underway among BJP members for a nomination from the seat, and selecting a high-profile outsider like Kishan was the BJP’s way of silencing it.
A popular star in Bhojpuri cinema, Kishan is a familiar figure for fans of Bollywood and south Indian movies, and became a household name with a stint on the first season of reality show Bigg Boss in 2006.
There were other contenders too
According to top BJP sources, Yogi Adityanath, who has won Gorakhpur five times, was also offered a chance to contest from here, but he told the high-command that he was in no mood to quit as chief minister.
Gorakhpur MP Praveen Nishad, who won the seat in the 2018 by-election, also joined the BJP recently, but he has been moved to Sant Kabir Nagar, where the party wanted to replace incumbent Sharad Tripathi — the MP who made headlines earlier this year with his shoe attack on a BJP MLA that was caught on video.
Meanwhile, Kishan had been trying to get a BJP ticket ever since he joined the party two years ago. A native of Jaunpur, which is in eastern UP like Gorakhpur, Kishan had contested the 2014 election from his home seat on a Congress ticket but lost miserably.
The caste calculation
The Nishad community forms the biggest chunk of the electorate in Gorakhpur parliamentary constituency, with around 4 lakh voters.
There are around 1.5 lakh Muslim voters here, and as many Brahmins. Other big community blocks include the Rajputs (1.3 lakh voters), the Yadavs (1.6 lakh) and the Sainthvar (1.4 lakh). Vaishyas and Bhumihars comprise one lakh voters each.
Kishan is a Brahmin, but the BJP hopes that the support of the Nishad Party, founded by Praveen’s father Sanjay, will help it sail through the election.
Sanjay Nishad reportedly snapped ties with the Samajwadi Party after his party was denied candidature from the Maharajganj Lok Sabha seat.
A mutt stronghold
Irrespective of caste calculations and party affiliations, this seat has been a dominion of the Gorakhnath mutt for a long period. Three mahants of the temple have represented this seat for over 30 years since the first election was held in 1952.
Mahant Digvijay Nath contested and won the 1967 general election on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket.
After his death in 1969, his successor Mahant Avaidyanath won the seat in the 1970 by-election as an Independent. In 1989, Avaidyanath was again elected MP on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket, and he won the seat twice more, in 1991 and 1996.
In 1998, Avaidyanath’s successor Yogi Adityanath made his debut in Parliament. He was, at the time, the youngest MP. He won the seat four more times, in 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014.
Not a cakewalk for Ravi Kishan
Despite his star status, Yogi’s influence, and the support of the Nishad Party, the going is unlikely to be easy for Kishan.
The opposition also seems to be playing its cards well, with the SP-BSP fielding Rambhual Nishad to split the Nishad vote.
The Congress, however, has still not declared its candidate.