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Gorakhpur bypoll: Did Yogi Adityanath overestimate his strength on home turf?

UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, the head priest of the Gorakhnath Mutt, emerged as the BJP’s lead campaigner across states in recent months, next to only Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah. However, the shock Gorakhpur defeat is a warning signal.

india Updated: Mar 15, 2018 16:38 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Gorakhpur election results,Gorakhpur bypoll results,Gorakhpur byelection results
A personal following and that of the Gorakhnath Mutt ensured Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath was not dependent on the BJP to win election, and he used this advantage over the years. (Subhankar Chakraborty/HT File Photo)

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rising star — Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath — was defeated on his home turf on Wednesday.

The 45-year-old head priest of the Gorakhnath Mutt has emerged as India’s ruling party’s lead campaigner across states in recent months, next to only Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah.

He addressed 35 rallies during the campaign for the Gujarat assembly polls last year, frequented Tripura during the February election and is giving the BJP’s campaign a push in Karnataka that will vote in May.

What he lost in between was his home turf – Gorakhpur – that the Mutt’s head priests have held without a break since 1989. Adityanath’s guru Mahant Avedyanath got elected to the Lok Sabha first in 1970 and then held the seat between 1989 and 1998. He passed the baton to Adityanath. Now, for the first time in 28 years, the Gorakhnath MP will not come from the Mutt.

The strong following of the Gorakhnath Mutt in Tripura and coastal Karnataka had prompted the BJP to send Adityanath beyond the boundaries of Uttar Pradesh. “It’s a warning signal for him,” a Union minister from Uttar Pradesh said on the condition of anonymity. “He cannot take UP for granted anymore.”

Adityanath, too, said “overconfidence” cost the BJP on both the seats and that the defeat was a matter of introspection. “We need to review this verdict so as we perform better in future,” he said in Lucknow.

The clout of the Gorakhnath Math in the region bordering Nepal and Adityanath’s personality cult made him indispensible in the region. An upper caste Thakur leader, Yogi epitomised a strong Hindutva brand of politics that helped him win a following among different castes. He raised a brigade of young men – the Hindu Yuva Vahini – that also courted controversies with its activities in the Gorakhpur region.

A personal following and that of the Mutt ensured Adityanath was not dependent on the BJP to win election, and he used this advantage over the years to arm-twist the saffron party on organisational matters, such as appointments and distribution of tickets in his region.

He was the surprise pick for the CM’s post when the BJP won a three-fourths majority in assembly elections last year. As chief minister, he kept the Gorakhpur connect alive, visiting the temple, too, often for religious and other works.

“He, perhaps, overestimated his strength and underestimated the SP-BSP alliance’s,” a Lok Sabha MP from eastern Uttar Pradesh said on condition of anonymity. BJP insiders in Delhi ruled out any immediate political fallout for him in Uttar Pradesh, but claimed his functioning will be “closely watched” from here that earlier.

“To lose a seat that we won by a margin of 3-lakh plus votes just four years back cannot be swept under the carpet,” a senior office bearer of the BJP said on condition of anonymity.

First Published: Mar 14, 2018 21:55 IST