Gorakhpur: The Lok Sabha by-poll in Gorakhpur, considered a safe bet for Uttar Pradesh's ruling BJP with five-time MP and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath fronting the campaign, has acquired fresh urgency with the new-found bonhomie between the SP and the BSP.
The by-polls on March 11 were necessitated after Adityanath, who is also mahant of the Gorakhnath temple, vacated the seat following his election to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council.
Though the chief minister's hold over the electorate is intact, the new understanding between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party has made the contest in the BJP stronghold a test case not just for him but also for a possible opposition alliance in the state for the 2019 general elections, said political observers.
The urgency, they said, is reflected in Adityanath's aggressive campaigning during his public meetings, where he launched a frontal attack against the SP and the BSP, calling them "snake and mole".
The Congress, however, appears to be missing from the centre of the action.
As political observers watch the goings-on in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, where also by-elections will be held on March 11, the BJP expressed confidence that the new found equation between the SP and the BSP would make no difference to the electoral contest.
"There will be no effect of the alliance... The BJP is all set to post victory with a huge margin. The people have now come to understand the reality of all such alliances," BJP media zonal in-charge Satyendra Sinha said.
That the mahant of Gorakhnath is also the chief minister has bolstered the morale of the workers, he said.
Adityanath, who has addressed up to six public meetings in a day and is likely to cover more areas before polling day on March 11, has also been clearing doubts in the minds of voters over the choice of the party's candidate Upendra Dutt Shukla, seen by some to Union Minister of State for Finance Shiv Pratap Shukla's camp.
Praveen Kumar Nishad of the Nishad Party, who is fighting on the SP symbol, also exuded confidence that he would defeat Shukla. "With BSP support, we can fight the communal forces effectively," he said.
Congress candidate Dr Surhita Kareem, a renowned gynaecologist and long-time Congress leader in Gorakhpur, was more ambivalent.
"It is not the question of whether everyone fighting together automatically converts into a win... We have seen in the past there are so many equations when you contest an election," Kareem said.
The mahants of Gorakhnath temple have represented the seat for 32 years, Mahant Digvijay Nath won the seat once as independent. He was followed by Mahant Avaidyanath who became MP for five terms from Gorakhpur, once as an independent candidate, once from the Hindu Mahasabha and thrice as BJP candidate.
Since then, the seat has come to be identified with Adityanath. His vote percentage has increased over the years and all eyes will not only be on the result but also on the victory margin.
In 1998, Adityanath won by a margin of 26,206 votes. This went up to 3,12,783 in 2014.
The seat comprises five assembly seats -- Gorakhpur rural, Gorakhpur urban, Pipraich, Sahjanwa and Campierganj.
There are a total of 19,49,144 voters -- including about 4.5 lakh Nishads, 3.5 lakh Muslims, 2 lakh dalits, 2 lakh Yadavs, 1.5 lakh Paswans, 2,25 lakh Kshatriyas and 2 lakh Saithwars.
Ten candidates are in the fray for the by-election -- Upendra Shukla (BJP), Surhita Kareem (Congress), Praveen Nishad (SP), Girish Narayan Pandey (Sarvodaya Bharat Party), Awdhesh Kumar Nishad (Bahujan Mukti Party) and independents.
Besides the campaign run by Adityanath and Raj Babbar for the Congress, lookalikes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah moving about the constituency have added colour to the canvassing.
The bypoll in Phulpur was necessitated after Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya vacated the seat.