One common reason people across the spectrum cite in support of the BJP is the visible effects of ‘vikas’.
The fact that Modi has elevated India in terms of image, globally, has also been duly noted by the electorate.
Until recently, Gorakhpur, the home turf of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and the seat of the Gorakhnath Peeth, was the safest bet for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in eastern Uttar Pradesh, called Poorvanchal. The BJP had this seat for nearly three decades, with Adityanath — also Mahant of the Gorakhnath Math — winning from here five times in a row between 1998 and 2014.
But this changed in 2018, after Adityanath became chief minister. In the ensuing by-poll, BJP’s Upendra Shukla lost to the Samajwadi Party’s (SP’s) Praveen Nishad, whom the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also supported, by almost 20,000 votes. At the core of this victory for the SP-BSP gathbandhan was a formidable caste arithmetic, which not only factored in Yadavs, Muslims and Dalits, but also Nishads, the dominant fishermen and boatsmen caste in this part of Uttar Pradesh.
Of the 19.5 lakh voters in Gorakhpur Lok Sabha, Nishads number nearly 4.5 lakh or 23 per cent. Muslims and Dalits each number 3.5 lakh or around 18 per cent, while around two lakh Yadavs form 10 per cent of the voters. The seat also has two lakh Saithwars, listed under Other Backward Castes (OBCs). Upper caste voters in Gorakhpur include 1.5 lakh Brahmins and almost 1 lakh Vaishya and Bhumihars. Clearly, Nishads have the numbers to influence the result of the close fight on this seat.
After the by-poll, the caste equations have become complex in Gorakhpur. Following his victory on SP ticket in the by-election, Praveen Nishad has joined the BJP, which has fielded him from the neighbouring Sant Kabir Nagar seat. The NISHAD party, which is headed by his father Sanjay Nishad, has also switched loyalties to the BJP. On the other hand, Amrendra Nishad, son of late Jamuna Prasad Nishad, a top leader from the community, is back with the SP after he quit the party to join the BJP in March.
Sticking to its caste calculus, the gathbandhan has found another local Nishad leader, Ram Bhuwal Nishad, who is in the fray against the BJP’s Ravi Kishan Shukla, a Bhojpuri super star. A former state minister in the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP government, Ram Bhuwal Nishad had contested against Adityanath on a BSP ticket from this seat in 2014, getting 1.76 lakh or 17 per cent of the total vote. The Congress, which now openly admits to being in a tactical alliance with the SP-BSP gathbandhan, has given ticket to Madhusudan Tripathi, to dent the BJP’s upper caste vote.
Therefore, the Opposition’s strategy, as it appears from the outside, is to deny the BJP Nishad votes and fracture its upper caste vote bank. While the Congress’ ability to seriously damage BJP’s upper caste vote is questionable, or, at best, very limited, the tougher question is: who will attract the Nishad vote?
Swarajya spent two days in the five Vidhan Sabhas segments — Campierganj, Pipraich, Gorakhpur Rural, Gorakhpur Urban and Sahjanwa — part of the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat to find an answer to this question, and many others which will be critical in deciding the outcome of the fight in this seat.
Our first stop in Gorakhpur was in Sahjuwa village in the Campierganj assembly seat, where we met a group of men from the Nishad community sitting at a tea point.
Sibal Lal Nishad, who owns the shop, said he will vote for the BJP. “Why wouldn’t I vote for Modi?,” he said, when this correspondent asked for his reasons to support the BJP. “He has given every home a toilet, has ensured that we get electricity 24 hours a day,” Sibbal Lal said, adding, “Modi ka kaam bhadiya hai (Modi’s work is good)“.
Phool Chand Nishad, who works in construction in the Gulf and is back home for a few weeks, said, “The speed of development in the Gorakhpur mandal (group of districts) has doubled under Modi. You can see new roads being built wherever you look. An AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) and a zoo are under construction. We are watching all this,” he told Swarajya. On being asked if he left the country due to lack of jobs, Phool Chand said yes, but blamed the Congress, which he said was in power when he went abroad in search of work. He will vote for the BJP.
Golu and Rahul Nishad, graduate students who were having tea before heading to the town to attend their coaching for a competitive exam, agreed. “Jab Sapa ki sarkar thi, jaat-biradari par naukari de rahi tha. Sari vacancy Yadav candidates se bhar rahi thi. BJP sarkar me ye nahi ho raha. (The SP government in the state was filling all vacant posts with Yadav candidates. This has changed under the BJP government),” Golu said. Rahul, standing besides him, said, “A BJP government both at Centre and in the State will be better for us”. He also stated that Nishad leader Praveen Kumar and the NISHAD party’s support for the BJP has also influenced his choice.
However, Ram Surat Nishad, a farmer, said he will be voting for the saffron party only because of vikas. But when asked about the effect of the gathbandhan fielding a candidate from his caste, Ram Surat said, like many others, that his community’s vote is likely to get divided between the BJP and the SP.
“But I will vote only for the BJP. Will my caste feed me if i vote for it? Will I not have to go to work every morning if I vote for a candidate from my community?,” he said.
Next, we stopped in Camperganj’s Peppeganj market. Here, Haridwar Agrahari, who runs a small belt shop, and Ram Kisun, a mochi who sits next to his shop identified himself as Chamar, said they will vote for the BJP. “Why should I vote for Mayawati? She shut down the sugar mill here,” he said, when this correspondent asked if he will vote for the gathbandhan, adding, “I know who is working for the poor. Not just that, look at how Modi has increased India’s prestige around the word. None, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Baduhar Shastri, could achieve as much as Modi has. He is a farishta for us, and people keep asking him to prove he is from a lower caste”.
Prahlad Agrahari, who runs a fruit shop a few meters away from Haridwar’s, too will vote for the BJP. Reasons: he has received funding for a toilet, which he says has improved the quality of life of the women at his home. “I would not have been able to afford building a toilet on my own all life,” he said, adding that he expects that in Modi’s second term, he will get funding from the government for a “colony”, which is the word most people in rural areas in this part of the state use for “house”.
Behind Prahlad’s fruit stall is Inderdev Vishwakarma’s iron workshop. Inderdev says he will vote for the saffron party as he has got a paikhana (toilet) and a house from the government. Veeru Kumar, a Dalit who works at a bike repair shop next to Inderdev’s, will also vote for the BJP, and so will his customer, Jitender Singh, who is a farmer. While Jitender is impressed with Modi’s work on national security, which he says has made sure India’s borders are secure, Veeru said he has never voted for Mayawati.
But unlike Veeru, many from the Chamar community in the Baghi Bhari village, our next stop a few kilometers away from Peppeganj market, will vote for the gathbandhan. Vimla, who is from the Chamar community, says she has received a toilet, but most other schemes of the Modi government have not reached her. She will vote for the SP candidate as Mayawati has tied up with the party, Vimla says, with her husband nodding in agreement. Their neighbour, Seepu, who is also from the Chamar community and works as a daily wager in Gorakhpur, will also vote for the gathbandhan.
The most dominant caste in the village, Gond, is listed as Other Backward Caste. And most members of this community say they will vote for the BJP, even though a few are not completely satisfied with the government’s performance.
Sailash Kumar Gond, who is not working currently, said under the BJP government, security has not only improved at the borders, but also inside the country. “Earlier, police never came when we needed it. Our concerns and complaints were ignored while those of the other caste were taken care of. Now, the condition has completely changed and the police is just a phone call away,” he told Swarajya.
Dharmdev Gond, who works at a petrol pump, said Modi’s welfare schemes are making a difference, pointing at the toilet funded by the government for his family. “A lot of work has been done under Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in our village. Not only that, a family has also received a house. I am confident that if Modi comes to power this time, many more of us will get a house too,” he said.
Sangeeta Gond, whose family is into farming, said she too expects to receive more benefits, including Rs 6,000 annually under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi programme, if the Modi-led BJP comes back to power. “Many people in the village have received fund in their accounts. Apart from that, roads have improved and we get a lot more hours with electricity supply than ever before,” Sangeeta added, nudging other women present around her to speak with this correspondent. She, however, said that there were no jobs for women like here in the area.
Sailesh, Dharmdev, and Sangeeta will vote for the BJP.
On the way to Piprich Vidhan Sabha segment, we stopped in Makhanha village, where Gangotri Devi and her husband Ram Saran Nishad told this correspondent that they have received both a house and a toilet from the government.
“I can’t forget Modi’s name. People can try to convince me to a hundred thousand times, but I have already made up my mind and it will not change. My vote will go to Modi,” the lady said, with other family members expressing agreement.
Many more families in the village have got a house under Modi’s scheme, but those who haven’t may also vote for the BJP. Atmaram Nishad, who works as a carpenter, says he has neither got a toilet nor a house, but will still vote for the BJP. “I am voting for Modi so that he can complete the work he has initiated in these years,” he said.
Shanti and Ramnath Dhobi (scheduled caste), an elderly couple who live in a hut and earns a living from their buffaloes, says he too hasn’t benefited personally from Modi’s schemes, but would vote from the BJP as he can see vikas.
We also met a group of men from the Yadav community at the Bhagwanpur Churaha. Sitting at a tea shop, Ashok Kumar Yadav, a farmer, said he isn’t impressed with the performance of the Modi government. “Modi has built shauchalayas in almost every home, but everyone still defecates in open,” Ashok said, claiming he had not received the Kissan Samman Nidhi from the government.
Manoj Kumar Yadav, a graduate who is now a farmer, said he didn’t like any of Modi’s welfare schemes. “This government has closed all pension schemes for the unemployed,” he claimed. Ravish Yadav, a student, and Kamlesh Yadav, a truck driver, agreed. All the men will vote for the gathbandhan.
Pipraich And Sahjawan
In Pipraich Vidhan Sabha’s Amwa village, we engaged a group of men from different communities playing cards at a pan shop.
Shiv Nath Gupta, Dina Singh and Suresh Prasad (harijan), farmers who have received the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, will vote for the BJP. “India has never had a leader of Modi’s stature,” Dina Singh said, justifying his choice.
Jaglal Prada, a harijan, said he will not vote for the gathbandhan as he wasn’t happy with the alliance. “Mayawati has joined hands with the same Mulayam Singh whose goons tore her cloths and tried to rape her two decades ago. This is unacceptable. She should not have done this,” he told this correspondent. Jaglal, another harijan farmer Ram Samuj, Baidyanath Vishwakarma (OBC) and Ramasre Vishwakarma are yet to get the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, but say they will still vote for the saffron party.
“Looking at welfare schemes, development, national security and his effort to reduce the country’s external debt, I have concluded that Modi is the best bet,” said Ramasre.
Abbas Ali, who too has received Rs 4,000 as Kisan Samman Nidhi, said he will also vote for the BJP. “One who will work for me is good,” he said. But Abbas Ali may be an exception, as many from the village’s Muslim community, including Mohammad Shameem, a farmer, will vote for the gathbandhan. Unwilling to explain his choice, Shameem said he has always voted for the SP.
In Pipraich town, Vinay Modanwal (OBC), a tea seller and Sudheer Chaurasia, a tobacco seller, will vote for the BJP. “Logon ko ghar mil raha hai, sauchalaya mil raha hai, road chaudi ho rahi hain, vikas dikh raha hai. Aur kya chaiye? (People are getting houses and toilets, roads are being widened, and development is visible, What else do we need?,” Sudheer told this correspondent when asked why he is supporting the BJP.
Similarly, Raj Kumar Madhesia and his son Manish Kumar are also supporting the BJP. The duo run an engineering workshop and say the improved electricity supply under the Adityanath-led state government has made their job easier. “Earlier, we had to stay up at night as that was the only part of the day we had electricity. Now, we have supply almost 22 to 23 hours a day and can work without interruption,” Manish noted.
One being asked why the BJP lost the by-election in 2018, Raj Kumar said the party’s supporters did not come out to vote and the party too did not work on a war footing. “Many BJP supporters I know did not go out to vote,” he said.
Gorakhpur had recorded a turnout of 47 per cent in the 2018 by-election, down from over 54 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
In Sahjanwa Vidhan Sabha, which is closer to the BSP stronghold of Sant Kabir Nagar than Gorakhpur, we stopped at Narauli village, where Malti Nishad, who has got a toilet and a house from the government, is with the BJP, but many of her neighbours from the community are undecided. “Others can vote for anyone they want, but my vote is with the BJP. The government can’t give homes to everyone in one go. It takes time,” she said, with nodding approval from her son.
But Bharat Nishad, a daily wager, said he will vote for the gathbandhan. “From here, all the Nishad vote is going to the SP-BSP alliance,” he claimed, without explaining why he has chosen to vote for the gathbandhan.
Ramesh Nishad and his neighbour Tukai Nishad, farmers, agreed with Bharat, saying Modi’s schemes had not benefited the community.
When asked if they were voting for the gathbandhan as it had fielded a candidate from their caste, they did not deny, but said that Ram Bhuwal Nishad is an important and widely known leader of their community.
Playing cards under a tree a few meters away from Bharat’s home, Dheeraj Kumar, Bhola Prasad and Ram Preet, daily wagers from the Chamar community, will also vote for the gathbandhan. “Mayawati is our community’s leader and now that she has joined hands with the Yadavs, we will support her,” said Bhola.
In Gorakhpur Urban and Rural
In the city, Swarajya met people working in and around the Gorakhnath Math.
Jitender Kumar Gupta, who has been running a utensils shop in the small market inside the temple gates since 1998, said there was no chance of the gathbandhan winning again from Gorakhpur. He will vote for the BJP.
“For the by-polls, Maharaj (Yogi Adityanath) and other BJP leaders thought they will easily win from here and did not put in the required effort. The SP and BSP managed to do a lot of maneuvering under their nose,” he said. “This time, they (the BJP) aren’t taking any risks. Maharaj is camping here for two days,” he added.
Just outside the temple’s main gate is Satish Sonkar’s (SC) fruit stall. “Under Modi and Yogi, one can see development. We have got an AIIMS, a fertilizers factory and a sugar mill. Roads have been widened,” the fruit seller said. Shravan Kumar Madhesia, who has a pan shop next to Satish’s shop, agreed. The two will vote for the BJP.
A few meters away is Mohammad Shahid’s medical store. “BJP’s candidate Ravi Kishan is an outsider. Had he been from our city, the condition would have been different,” Shahid said. His customer, Rashid Alam, who runs a building material shop a few kilometers away from the temple, says, “Babaji was our MP for so many years, but nothing has changed. See, the roads are the same. There is no cleaning here for weeks on a stretch. Modi’s schemes are also not working,” he said. The two men will vote for the SP, but do not like its candidate either. “No one in the community is happy with the gathbandhan’s candidate. His record is not good,” said Shahid.
A few kilometers away, in the Civil Lines area, Ajay Kumar Chauhan said he will vote for the BJP. He lists the government’s most common achievements, including surgical strikes and welfare schemes, but lays special emphasis on the work done by the state government in the city’s medical college. (Read: This Is What Yogi Adityanath’s Government Is Doing To Fight The Encephalitis Scourge)
At a juice shop near Ajay’s shop, Naveen Chauhan told this correspondent that he too will vote for the saffron party. “No one has done as much work as the BJP. Do you know the Congress is offering everyone Rs 72,000 per annum. It can never give such money. Where will the money come from? And if it manages to give it to some, nobody would want to work. Everyone will seek this fund. Where would our economy go then?,” he said. Naveen works as a helper at a local clinic.
At the city’s Naushad Chauraha, which serves as a stop for private buses coming into the city, we met Siresh Nishad, who will vote for the BJP. “A few years ago, there were multiple traffic jams here every day. Now, the highway has been improved and adjoining roads have been widened. The traffic flows smoothly,” he says, adding that much has changed in his village too. “A lot of deserving families have got houses and toilets. Their lives have improved because of the government. I have never seen such a direct effect of a government scheme before,” he said. Swarajya.
Anuj Kushwaha (OBC), who was buying his daily dose of tobacco before boarding a bus to Varanasi, agreed. “Just look at how flawlessly this government handled the situation with Pakistan. If we had a Congress government, they would have capitulated and agreed to go to the table. We know the result of those talks. Pakistan would have continued to kill our jawans. Modi has stopped this,” he told Swarajya.
“Thanks to Modi, people in Pakistan today are shivering with fear,” Anuj said.