The BJP leadership is in two minds over a high profile by-election in Phulpur, which could see the opposition in UP unite and set a template for 2019.
Will there be a vacancy in Phulpur, the high-profile constituency across the river Ganga in Allahabad district that was once held by Jawaharlal Nehru and is now represented by the BJP’s Keshav Prasad Maurya? Maurya, who happens to the state’s deputy chief minister, is also the BJP state unit president.
It now appears that the central leadership is considering having Maurya resign from his parliamentary seat, and get into the rough and tumble of an assembly election. Maurya has a six-month window to be elected to the state assembly, having taken oath as the deputy chief minister in the Adityanath government on March 19.
That window closes on September 18, and Maurya has the option of getting into the legislative council from one of the two seats recently vacated by Samajwadi Party politicians close to Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shivpal Yadav. It is expected that Adityanath will resign from his Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat and use one of the two seats to fulfil the six-month deadline. Maurya and Adityanath, as well as Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, are yet to resign from their positions as MPs, having kept their seats in order to vote in the presidential and vice presidential elections.
While the BJP is not worried about the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha by-election, viewing it as a pocket borough of the right-wing Hindutva brigade lead by Adityanath (who is also the head of the Gorakhnath peeth situated in the city), it is a different story as far as Maurya’s election goes.
His victory in a by-election has come under some doubt since reports started doing the rounds that BSP leader Mayawati could be the joint opposition candidate against him. Having just resigned from the Rajya Sabha, Mayawati would like to make a spectacular comeback to the House, and the Nitish Kumar-BJP coalition in Bihar has only coalesced the opposition to come together as one force to take on Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Almost everyone, including the Congress, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP are talking of a single candidate every time an election is held.
What that would mean is that Maurya may be asked to resign from the UP government and continue to be an MP. He may, however, be inducted as a minister in the Modi government as and when a reshuffle takes place at the Centre.
On March 12, the BJP won a landslide victory, grabbing 312 seats out of a total of 403 seats in the UP Vidhan Sabha. The BJP’s allies won 13 seats, taking the total tally to 325 seats. It was seen as Modi’s onward march to grab power for a second term in 2019. But less than six months since the historic UP verdict, the BJP is unsure of which way the dice will roll.
The BJP leadership is also unsure of the Adityanath’s popularity and is not in the mood to experiment in UP at the moment.
Riding high after breaking the opposition government in Bihar and partnering with Nitish, the BJP appears to be making attempts to break the Congress in Gujarat, working to defeat Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha and thus make an aggressive bid to win the upcoming assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. But this will all be negated if the party were to lose the Phulpur seat to Mayawati.
A senior leader said that the BJP leadership is not willing to give the opposition a handle to come together and experiment with a new round of unity. There have been calls for the Congress, the SP and the BSP to come together if they want to defeat the BJP in the 2019 general elections in UP. Bihar and the mahagathbandhan were cited as examples of how to handle the BJP. This has now fallen apart, but the opposition parties in UP are in the mood to experiment and come together for their own survival.
That is why there is a serious thinking within the BJP that Maurya must retain his Lok Sabha seat and return to the Centre, rather than risk calling for an election from Phulpur. A final decision is still awaited.
As an alternative game plan, the BJP is also “working”on Mulayam Singh, the weakest link in the entire opposition chain, to ensure there is no mahagathbandhan in UP. Reports have already started appearing that there is no question of the SP supremo agreeing to support Mayawati if she contests. Winning over his son Akhilesh is a whole different ball game.
Renu Mittal is an independent journalist.