UP: Why the BJP's MPs and MLAs Are Engaged in a Tussle in Gorakhpur

What started as an issue with a civic official's performance has ballooned into massive battle, splitting the saffron party into two factions.

Gorakhpur: In Gorakhpur, the home turf of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, BJP MPs and MLAs are locking horns over the transfer of an assistant engineer who was supervising a road project. What began as internal bickering intensified into an ugly battle. As tensions escalated, legislators demanded each other’s resignation, challenges were issued for an electoral face-off and personal insults were hurled.

Although the Uttar Pradesh BJP has served a show-cause notice to Gorakhpur MLA Radha Mohan Das Agarwal for his social media posts, the rhetoric has continued, with party legislators as well as workers split into two camps.

It all began during a brief three-day session of the UP legislative assembly, when Gorakhpur (Nagar) MLA Agarwal raised the issue of a road which, he claimed, was causing waterlogging in some residential colonies in his constituency. He held PWD assistant engineer K.K. Singh responsible for the issue. Agarwal then met deputy chief minister and public works minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, who transferred Singh from Gorakhpur and attached him to the headquarters upon the MLA’s request.

BJP MLA R.M.D. Agarwal inspecting a waterlogged road. Photo: Facebook/agrawalrmdmla1

However, the deputy CM’s decision did not go down well with Gorakhpur MP Ravi Kishan. He dispatched a letter to Maurya, informing him that the road was raised on his orders because otherwise, the four-lane road would get waterlogged. The transfer of the assistant engineer would delay the project, he claimed. He even praised the work of the assistant engineer.

It was so far, so good and Agarwal did not take any offence to the MP’s letter. However, on August 25, a letter written by four BJP MLAs – Sheetal Pandey (Sahjanwa), Bipin Singh (Gorakhpur Rural), Mahendra Pal Singh (Pipraich) and Sangeeta Yadav (Chauri Chaura) – was circulated on social media.

Praising the assistant engineer in the letter, the MLAs requested deputy CM Maurya to reinstate him to his previous post in Gorakhpur. They also said that since the engineer was working on a crucial project, his transfer may lead to delays.

The BJP MLA of Campierganj, Fateh Bahadur Singh, also wrote to Maurya with a similar request.

Later, Sheetal Pandey denied writing such a letter and alleged that his letterhead was misused.

As the missives became viral, Agarwal turned to social media and made some stinging remarks. In a Facebook post, he wrote in Hindi:

“While we have been fighting for the residents of our assembly constituency which has been submerged for the past four months, the honourable MLAs of Pipraich, Gorakhpur Rural and Sahjanwa have stepped forth in support of the assistant engineer. Strange, unimaginable and incredulous! What kind of democracy have you created?”

In a second post, he stated:

“What do you call this relation? It is something never seen before. The MLAs used to whine that the officers do not listen to them. It is amazing to see these ‘poor’ legislators rallying behind a petty officer. Should we start pimping corrupt officials? Not possible for me. I will fight for you.”

Soon, the BJP MP of Bansgaon, Kamlesh Paswan, and his brother, the MLA of Bansgaon, Dr Vimlesh Paswan came out in support of Agarwal. Kamlesh wrote on Facebook:

“I am with Dr Radha Mohan Das Agarwal ji (Nagar MLA, Gorakhpur) in his fight against corruption. All of us are aware of the quality of the development work going on in our constituencies.”

Escalation of attacks

The next day, Campierganj MLA Fateh Bahadur Singh issued a statement attacking Agarwal and claimed:

“He is disoriented because the MLA fund has been suspended. The Nagar MLA is insisting on the transfer of the assistant engineer like an innocent child. When the majority of MPs and MLAs are satisfied with the work of the engineer and unanimously siding with him, what is forcing the Nagar MLA to insist on his removal? His support base is not hidden from any one. He has turned to social media in order to garner attention.”

Agarwal strongly retaliated to this attack by Singh. In his rejoinder posted on Facebook on August 27, Agarwal wrote: “The honourable MLA of Campierganj, Shri Fateh Bahadur Singh, seems deeply aggrieved over the transfer of assistant engineer KK Singh.”

In his post, he remarked in detail on Fateh Bahadur Singh’s history of party-hopping, and the charges of corruption against him while he was the forest minister. Agarwal also asked what gave Singh the authority to intervene in a matter that concerned the residents of his assembly constituency.

While the rest of the MLAs have gone silent on the matter now, Gorakhpur MP Ravi Kishan and Campierganj MLA Fateh Bahadur Singh have continued to attack Agarwal.

Fateh Bahadur Singh dared Agarwal to resign and contest against him in Campierganj.

Meanwhile, an audio recording of Agarwal is doing rounds on social media. The MLA can be heard telling a BJP party worker, who raises the issue of inaction in a case of molestation, “The Thakurs are in power now. Be careful!”

When asked about the audio, Agarwal said that he does not recall having such a conversation, insisting that he never makes such remarks. He claimed the recording was released as part of a ‘conspiracy’ against him, promising to expose it soon.

Following the audio clip, Agarwal became the target of a renewed bout of attacks. BJP MP Ravi Kishan said, “If the Nagar MLA hates the BJP, then he must tender his resignation. He is continuously doing anti-BJP work. He has become a hindrance in the progress of Gorakhpur.”

Responding to Ravi Kishan, Agarwal jibed, “We too have played a tiny role in the creation of the idol of Ravi Kishan ji. The sculptor never breaks the idols he installs.”

On August 28, Agarwal wrote several Facebook posts with metaphors like “strong like a rock” and allusions to the Mahabharata with statements like, “I am not Abhimanyu but Arjun, I know how to outmanoeuvre the chakravyuh.” With this, he declared his determination to continue his fight despite the tirade against him.

Gorakhpur MP Ravi Kishan. Photo: Twitter/@ravikishann

Show-cause issued, but no let up

On August 27, the party’s state general secretary J.P.S. Rathore issued a show-cause notice to Agarwal. In the notice, Agarwal has been accused of publishing social media posts that tarnish the image of the government as well as the ruling party. A response has been sought within a week.

Despite the notice, the war of words continued on August 29 as well. A statement of Campierganj MLA Fateh Bahadur Singh published in a newspaper read, “Dr R.M.D. Agarwal is mentally disturbed and needs treatment. I will ask the speaker of the Assembly to get him tested.”

In response, Dr Agarwal shared a lengthy post on Facebook, in which he wrote:

“Politics is going through the worst phase where a legislator, instead of sincerely serving the residents of his own constituency, acts as a villain hindering the solution of a six-month long hellish situation faced by the residents of another constituency.”

The wrangle between the BJP legislators is now raising several questions. Is the engineer so powerful that his transfer may cause a rift within the party?

Those who are aware of the BJP’s politics know that there is more to the episode than meets the eye. It is not a simple matter of the transfer of an engineer. The transfer is merely an excuse to corner the Nagar MLA, orders for which were issued from ‘the top’, it is rumoured.

Agarwal’s political history

The story of how R.M.D. Agarwal, who has been the Gorakhpur MLA since 2002, was inducted into politics is quite interesting. A paediatrician by profession, Agarwal has been associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. At the time, the BJP in Gorakhpur was split into two factions. While one faction was led by state minister Shiv Pratap Shukla, the other was led by Yogi Adityanath. In an open revolt against Shukla, Adityanath fielded his candidate in the 2001 mayoral elections against the BJP candidate. Both the candidates lost to an independent, Kinnar Asha Devi.

In the assembly polls of 2002, Adityanath fielded Agarwal on the Hindu Mahasabha’s ticket against Shiv Pratap Shukla. Agarwal won. Subsequently, he became the BJP’s candidate of choice in assembly polls, winning each time.

During the ensuing decade, Gorakhpur witnessed a tussle between the BJP and Yogi Adityanath and his organisation Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV). The BJP finally accepted Adityanath’s dominance not only in Gorakhpur but the entire Purvanchal. His consent was now required during ticket distribution.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 assembly polls, Adityanath neutralised the HYV, ending the possibility of a confrontation with the BJP. It left several senior HYV leaders miffed and they left the organisation.

UP chief minister Adityanath. Photo: PTI

Agarwal succeeded in carving an image for himself

Agarwal is quite an active and vocal legislator who keeps raising local issues in the assembly. He has a simple lifestyle and is readily accessible. Despite working with dominant figures like Yogi Adityanath during the 18 years of his political career, Agarwal has managed to carve an independent niche for himself. Despite winning the polls four consecutive times, he was surprisingly not given an important role either in the government or in the party.

In the past three years, Agarwal has made headlines several times. During an agitation, he was caught in a heated argument with a female IPS officer over the lathicharging of protesters.

In December 2019, almost half a dozen engineers of the construction unit of Jal Nigam in Gorakhpur went on mass leave, accusing Agarwal of misbehaviour. The MLA accused the engineers of laying a 140-km sewer line without following the standards. He said the project was abandoned after newly laid roads were dug up, which caused waterlogging in many colonies and also resulted in accidents.

Prior to the recent controversy, he made pointed remarks on Twitter that no arrests were made in the murder case of a BJP worker who was shot in Lakhimpur Kheri district. He claimed that several calls he made to the DGP and additional chief secretary (home) were not taken. After his post, action was taken against the accused and Agarwal deleted his tweet.

Agarwal’s straightforward attitude may have irked the BJP’s leadership, but the MLA does not have a dearth of admirers among the different parties.

There are two MPs and nine MLAs in Gorakhpur district and all except one MLA are from the BJP. Five of the eight BJP MLAs – from Pipraich, Sahjanwa, Gorakhpur Rural, Chauri Chaura, and Basgaon – are newcomers. Agarwal, on the other hand, is a four-time legislator. Sant Prasad from Khajani was elected for the second time, but his previous term began in 1996. Though Fateh Bahadur Singh from Campierganj has won the elections five consecutive times since 1996, it was on different party tickets. He was a minister in the Kalyan Singh, Rajnath Singh and BSP governments.

Between 2002 and 2020, a great deal of water has flown through the Rapti River. During this lengthy period, many leaders jumped ship and joined the BJP. But they all have their own ambitions and interests at heart, which leads to occasional outbursts.

Intervening urgently in the matter, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath landed up at the city’s circuit house on August 30 and met his party leaders. The local dailies reported that the CM urged all the leaders to focus on development work and avoid further controversy. Both the Gorakhpur MP Ravi Kishan and MLA Radha Mohan Das said that the chief minister urged everyone to stay together and engage in constructive dialogue.

However, despite the CM’s intervention, the clashes between the leaders are unlikely to dissipate. The conflict should be seen as a backdrop for the 2022 assembly elections. In Gorakhpur, fresh equations are forming within the BJP. Who benefits from this churn remains to be seen.

Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.

Manoj Singh is the editor of the website Gorakhpur Newsline.