Gorakhpur: Why did Yogi pick Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan to contest from his bastion?

Yogi Adityanath hasn’t campaigned for Ravi Kishan so far, triggering speculations that he’s unhappy with his selection.

WrittenBy:Kanchan Srivastava
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On April 23, Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan alias Ravindra Narain Shukla filed his nomination from the Gorakhpur Parliamentary Constituency with much fanfare. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was expected to accompany Kishan but he skipped the nomination from his pocket borough giving rise to speculation that he was unhappy with the party’s pick. The actor had unsuccessfully contested the Jaunpur seat on a Congress ticket in 2014 but switched to the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2017.

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Ten days after 51-year-old Kishan filed his nomination, Adityanath, who is also the Mahant of the Gorakhnath temple and a five-time MP from Gorakhpur, hasn’t held any campaign or road show with him so far. This despite the fact that Adityanath visited his hometown twice and attended two gatherings. Gorakhpur goes to poll on May 19.

Adityanath’s absence from Ravi Kishan’s campaigns has fuelled speculations that either he didn’t choose Kishan or perhaps the chief minister isn’t bothered about the party’s victory in the constituency which he represented for two decades. Despite the conjecture to the contrary, the party spokesperson insists that Kishan was “handpicked” by Adityanath. Prem Shukla, the BJP’s spokesperson, claims, “Yogiji is busy with his election meetings but will campaign in Gorakhpur in the next few days. The party lost the by-poll as Yogiji didn’t have a say in the candidate selection. Ravi Kishan has been handpicked by him.”

Meanwhile, the actor has sought to downplay Adityanath’s absence. After filing his nomination, he said, “Maharajji was supposed to bless me during my nomination but because of prior engagements he could not come.” He added that he would serve the people by keeping Adityanath’s khadaoon (wooden slippers).

The party lost this prestigious seat to the Samajwadi Party in the by-poll held in March 2018. The polls were necessitated after Adityanath vacated the seat. It was the first time in three decades that the BJP had not picked a math candidate. The defeat was viewed as Adityanath’s failure in his first electoral test after becoming Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister. It was also seen as his math’s diminishing relevance.

Some BJP leaders believe Adityanath doesn’t want a second line of leadership to emerge in Gorakhpur. This is why he picked a non-political candidate who doesn’t even belong to the city—though Kishan claims to have roots in the district. BJP leaders also underscore how crucial this victory is for Hindutva’s poster boy, Yogi Adityanath, who is touted to be a future prime ministerial candidate.

Manoj Singh, a senior journalist from Gorakhpur, agrees. “Losing Gorakhpur once again will not only diminish Yogi’s power in the state but also damage his prospects at the national level. Therefore, he will ensure the BJP’s victory at his home turf.”

Controversy over education qualification

A complaint has been registered against Kishan with the Election Commission over discrepancies in his educational qualification. His 2014 affidavit, when he contested on behalf of the Congress, allegedly stated that he studied BCom while the present affidavit states his highest qualification as Class 12.

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Kishan’s 2014 affidavit.

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Kishan’s 2019 affidavit.

Kishan’s election affidavit shows that he is a Mumbai resident. He is married and has four children. Kishan and his family have assets worth 21 crore which includes two commercial apartments, six residential flats in Mumbai and Pune, a Mercedes Benz, a BMW, Jaguar cars, and a Harley Davidson bike.

 Is Ravi Kishan the best bet?

It was expected that the BJP would give the ticket to either the 2018 by-poll winner, Pravin Kumar Nishad (from the Nishad Party who won on the SP symbol but has switched to the BJP now), or his runner-up Upendra Shukla. But the party chose Kishan instead.

This is being viewed as killing many birds with one stone. A senior BJP leader says: “Firstly, the infighting within the BJP was silenced. Secondly, Kishan is a non-political person and hence, can get the support of all factions in the party. Thirdly, if Kishan wins, the actor will mostly stay in Mumbai or Delhi. He can never pose a threat to Yogi.”

SK Dwivedi, a political analyst, has a different opinion. “To maintain a standard in politics, political parties should field only committed party members in the elections, not the outsiders who neither understand policies nor the party’s ideology. Most actors remain elusive from Parliament and constituency both. In Ravi Kishan’s case, he doesn’t even know his educational qualification.”

To take on Ravi Kishan, the SP has fielded Ram Bhuwal Nishad, who had replaced sitting MP Pravin Nishad after the latter joined the BJP last month. Ram Bhuwal Nishad has been a two-time MLA from Gorakhpur (rural) and enjoys the support of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance.

The Congress is fielding advocate Madhusudan Tiwari (65), a non-political candidate who was neither a member of any party nor contested any elections so far. The triangular contest has made this battle quite interesting. Tiwari is believed to be close to eastern UP’s muscle-man Harishankar Tiwari. While Gorakhnath Temple has been the power centre of the Thakur community, Harishankar Tiwari’s power centre—known as “Hata”—is frequented by Brahmins.

Oxygen tragedy not an electoral issue anymore

One of the factors behind the by-poll victory was the death of 60 children in Gorakhpur’s BRD Medical College in August 2017, allegedly due to a shortage of oxygen supply. Most of them were Japanese encephalitis (JE) patients receiving treatment at the special ward. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav referenced the issue in a big way during the by-poll.

Eastern UP is endemic to JE. Over 500-600 children have died every year over the last three decades due to JE at the BRD Hospital, the only tertiary care facility among many districts. “The oxygen tragedy or JE deaths are not electoral issues anymore. Caste politics and national security will decide the outcome,” says a doctor associated with the BRD Hospital on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, the Adityanath government claims the number of JE deaths has dropped by 66 per cent since 2017 due to intervention programmes.

Vote maths

Over 19.5 lakh voters will exercise their franchise in the concluding phase of the Lok Sabha polls. Nishads play a dominant role here, as they constitute 3.5 lakh of the population.

The region of Gorakhpur has a strong presence of backward castes such as Nishad, Kewat, Mallah and Majhi who have been associated with fishing and ferrying boats. They comprise over 30 per cent of the population. The Nishad Party, a small political outfit formed in 2015, has a solid base among them which will benefit the BJP. Dalits form around 8.5 per cent of the population, Muslims 14 per cent, and Yadavs roughly seven per cent. The remaining are upper castes—Brahmins, Thakurs, Vaishyas and Kayasthas.

The SP relies on anti-incumbency and caste dynamics. On the other hand, the BJP is betting on Modi’s charisma, Adityanath’s influence, and the development work done in the last two years. A section of Brahmins, Thakurs and Other Backward Castes (OBCs) are likely to support Kishan. The alliance candidate will attract a majority of OBCs, Dalit and Muslim votes, while Congress’s Tiwari will cut into the BJP’s Brahmin votes as well as the SP-BSP’s Muslim votes.

Anshu Awasthi, the Congress spokesperson, says, “Ravi Kishan seeks to present himself as a Brahmin face but Gorakhpur had already rejected the BJP in the by-polls. It was mainly because Adityanath failed to address people’s woes despite becoming the chief minister. The BJP is headed for another loss here.”

Gaurav Tripathi, a senior journalist from Gorakhpur, says, “Ravi Kishan’s campaign has picked up gradually and he might win in the name of Modi if Yogi campaigns for him.”

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