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|February 17, 1998|
Mahant hands over baton to disciple, but ex-associate could spoil the BJP's party
The presence of the Samajwadi Party's Yamuna Nishad, a former associate of the Gorakhnath temple Mahant and the Bharatiya Janata Party's saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath, has turned the contest for the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat into a keen one.
Mahant Avaidyanath -- chairman of the Sri Ram Janambhoomi Mukti Yagya Samiti -- won the last three elections from Gorakhpur. This time, however, Mahant has handed over political responsibility to his successor Yogi Adityanath who is leaving no stone unturned to retain the seat for the BJP.
According to Mahant, Yogi devoted all his energy and helped him win the seat with a handsome margin in the 1996 election. The temple has more than two dozen educational institutions in the constituency and its teachers and students have become Yogi's main asset for the election.
Though there are ten candidates in the fray, a straight contest is inevitable between the BJP and the Samajwadi Party. Electioneering has reached its peak but the traditional blaring of loudspeakers, banners, festoons and wall graffiti are absent in the city and its suburbs. The candidates and their supporters are concentrating instead on door-to-door canvassing.
While Yamuna Nishad is concentrating on the 300,000 Nishad, Muslim and backward votes, Yogi is hopeful of getting the support of a cross-section of people and is banking on their religious sentiments. On the other hand, Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Prahlad Yadav is confident of retaining the traditional votes of what has come to be known as the Bahujan Samaj.
The Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party's inability to strike a deal in Uttar Pradesh has ensured that the former party's Ramakant Pandey is in the contest as well. Pandey was the labour leader at the now shut Gorakhpur fertiliser factory and has been putting pressure on the state government to reopen the establishment. The division in the Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party votes will help Yogi, political observers say.
The business community, which played a major role in the assembly and parliamentary elections, is divided. While the Uttar Pradesh Udyog Vyapar Pratinidhi Mandal Kanchal group supports Yogi, the Surendra Agrawal group is on Nishad's side. The Gorakhpur constituency has five assembly segments, and its four BJP/BJP-supported MLAs are working overtime for Yogi.
The non-BJP parties criticise Mahant, and by association, his successor for having done nothing for the constituency. The Gorakhpur fertiliser factory, they say, has been lying shut for the last eight years but Mahant, during his three-term tenure as MP, did not do anything to help reopen it.
Nishad has promised voters that he would put pressure on the next Union government to reopen the factory. It is because of Mahant's attitude, the SP candidate says, that the district has become a non-industry area.
In 1996, the BJP candidate got 236,369 (or 42 %) votes, the Samajwadi Party's Virendra Pratap Sahi secured 179,189 (or 32 per cent) votes. The BSP nominee got 85,248 votes (15 per cent).
There are 1.226 million voters in the constituency, a total of 597 polling centres and 1,497 polling booths. The district police has identified 25 sensitive and 47 hyper-sensitive polling centres. Besides the police, ten companies of paramilitary forces will be deployed on polling day, February 22, to maintain law and order.
District Magistrate K L Meena has issued shoot-at-sight orders in case of booth capturing or looting of ballot boxes.
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