Four-time MLA from Gorakhpur and Rajya Sabha MP, Dr. Radha Mohan Das Agarwal, has been appointed as one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) eight national general secretaries by the party’s high command. In the last assembly elections, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath had replaced Dr. Agarwal, who was then sitting MLA from Gorakhpur, and won. Agarwal was made in-charge of Lakshadweep and co-in-charge of Kerala in July 2022 after being nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP.
Earlier this year, Shiv Pratap Shukla, another veteran BJP leader from Gorakhpur, was appointed governor of Himachal Pradesh in February.
Pankaj Chaudhary, MP from Maharajganj district, not too far from Gorakhpur, was handed a berth in the cabinet as minister of state (finance) two years ago. On July 7, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who arrived for the centenary program of Geeta Press in Gorakhpur, unexpectedly reached Chaudhary’s house and showered affection on his family members.
Dr. Sanjay Kumar Nishad, president of Gorakhpur-based Nishad Party, is also currently a favourite with the BJP leadership.
These political developments have but one thing in common – all four leaders have had a fall out with chief minister Yogi Adityanath who gave each of them a rough time at one point or another. The sourness of their relations is often reflected in their comments and private conversations.
Currently, speculations are rife about the sudden political ascent specifically of these four leaders.
Radha Mohan Das Agarwal
Dr. Radha Mohan Das Agarwal, also known as RMD, was a renowned pediatrician in the city before he joined politics. While pursuing MBBS and MD from Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Agarwal remained active in student union politics and was also elected office bearer. After coming to Gorakhpur, he worked as a volunteer for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He was close to Adityanath’s mentor Mahant Avedyanath.
In 2000, RMD began actively participating in politics. This was also the period when Adityanath’s political career was on the rise after he became an MP. He had a tiff with BJP minister Shiv Pratap Shukla at the time.
In 2002, Yogi Adityanath pitted Agarwal against Shukla on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket. After winning the election, Agarwal joined the BJP. He was elected as an MLA in 2007, 2012 and 2017. In the 2022 assembly polls, he had to reluctantly vacate his seat for Adityanath and was not handed any post after the elections. Agarwal returned to his medical practice but was given a place in the Rajya Sabha four months later. That’s when he was also made in-charge of Lakshadweep, co-in-charge of Kerala and now he has been appointed as the national general secretary of the BJP.
During his four terms as MLA, Agarwal was quite active in the assembly. Despite being shadowed by the presence of an influential leader like Adityanath, he was the only BJP legislator who managed to carve a niche for himself, took independent decisions, and did not depend on the chief minister. After Adityanath, he was the sole BJP leader who got the most attention from the media.
Agarwal stayed away from the communal politics of Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV)and built an image of a moderate nationalist leader for himself in Adityanath’s troupe. He kept in touch with people of all ideologies and was present in their programs. Many staunch anti-BJP people in the city claim to vote for Dr. Agarwal because he seems to be the ideal legislator.
Agarwal always had differences with the BJP’s local unit. That’s because instead of communicating with the people through the organization, he interacted with them directly and developed a parallel network of contacts. As a result, resentment against him rose within the party so much so that in the last two elections, the local BJP unit had openly opposed the party’s decision to hand him a ticket.
Locals seem to agree that Agrawal’s politics is different from Adityanath’s. This became apparent on several occasions over the last two decades, when both of them took different stands on various issues, amid reports of a cold war brewing between the two.
Despite being elected as an MLA for four consecutive terms, Agarwal was not handed any crucial portfolios either in the government or within the organization. He even openly expressed his desire for a ministerial position in a Facebook post in which he wrote, “Perhaps God wants to see me in a bigger role.”
For the last four years, Agrawal had been playing the role of an opposition leader in the politics of Gorakhpur. He had started confronting the government machinery on various issues. At the BRD Medical College, he sat on a dharna to protest against the non-payment of salaries to National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) contract workers. In an event organized at the Deputy Labour Commissioner’s office on Labour Day, Agarwal alleged that the labour department was unable to help real beneficiaries benefit from its schemes. On another occasion, when the police lathi-charged women protestors demanding the removal of liquor shops, he had a heated argument with lady IPS officer Charu Nigam. The incident was captured in a video which went viral. In another viral video, he was heard saying, “Thakurs are in power. Be wary.”
In December 2019, half a dozen engineers of Jal Nigam’s construction unit in Gorakhpur went on mass leave accusing Agarwal of misbehaviour. Agarwal had accused these engineers of violating norms and failing to repair newly constructed roads after digging them for the work of laying a 140-km long sewer line.
He also made stinging comments on Twitter over the government’s failure to arrest the accused after a relative of a BJP worker was shot dead in Lakhimpur Kheri district. He made several phone calls to the DGP and additional chief secretary (home) which went unanswered and prompted him to tweet his comments. When action was finally taken against the accused, he deleted the tweet.
Gorakhpur BJP MP Ravi Kishan, Campierganj BJP MLA Fateh Bahadur Singh and Pipraich MLA Mahendra Pal Singh fiercely attacked Agarwal for the transfer of an engineer in 2020 and accused him of working against the BJP. Agarwal also publicly responded to these attacks.
The matter spiralled into such a huge controversy that on August 27, 2020, the state general secretary of the party, JPS Rathore, issued a show-cause notice to Agarwal in which he was accused of writing posts on social media that tarnish the image of the government and the party. The chief minister himself had to intervene to settle the dispute.
It was rumoured that BJP MPs and MLAs had the nod from the ‘top’ to attack Agarwal.
Shiv Pratap Shukla
Shiv Pratap Shukla became an MLA and was appointed as a minister in the BJP government for the first time in 1989. He resumed office as an MLA and a cabinet minister four times after that.
Shukla was considered to be the most influential BJP leader of Gorakhpur. Slowly, anger started brewing within the party against his style of working. The dissatisfied members started flocking around Adityanath. In 2000, Shukla’s chosen candidate got the ticket in the mayoral election which the BJP workers opposed. The election seemed to be a face-off between the BJP and the rebel candidate fielded by Yogi Adityanath, but people’s anger against the BJP helped transwomanAsha Devi win the polls.
Later, Adityanath pitted Agarwal against Shukla in the 2002 elections which Agarwal won. Since then Shukla remained sidelined for more than a decade. After Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, Shukla’s wheel of fortune turned once again and he was made a Rajya Sabha member in 2016. Soon after, he was made Union minister of state for finance in September 2017. As soon as his Rajya Sabha membership ended, he was appointed the governor of Himachal Pradesh in February 2023. The appointment shocked political pundits because it was believed that he was no longer ‘politically relevant’. It is speculated that the step was taken in an attempt to maintain political balance in Gorakhpur. Ever since his appointment, Modihas started giving a lot of attention to Gorakhpur.
Union minister of state for finance, Pankaj Chaudhary, is an MP from Maharajganj with a strong foothold among the Kurmi community. He was elected six times from the seat. His elder brother and mother were former heads of Maharajganj District Panchayat. However, despite being a six-time MP, he was denied a post in the party or the government. He once had a good rapport with the BJP’s state general secretary Rampati Ram Tripathi (currently MP from Deoria), and the pair used to distribute party tickets. Adityanath also had a tiff with the duo. Chaudhary is a low profile leader. Despite his opposition, Adityanath gave assembly tickets to Premsagar Patel in 2017 and 2022 from Maharajganj’s Siswa constituency.
In June, when all top BJP leaders were invited to the Barhi ceremony of Pankaj Chaudhary’s grandson, Modi also visited his house and displayed affection. Defense minister Rajnath Singh, Jammu and Kashmir governor Manoj Sinha, Himachal Pradesh governor Shiv Pratap Shukla, UP deputy chief minister Brajesh Pathak, BJP state president Bhupendra Singh and many veteran BJP leaders arrived at the event but Adityanath was nowhere to be seen. However, when Modi reached Chaudhary’s house, Adityanath also joined him.
Nishad Party President Dr. Sanjay Nishad used to be aggressively vocal in his opposition to the RSS, BJP and HYV until 2019. He used to refer to the RSS and HYVas anti-social organisations and the BJP as ‘Bharat Jalao Party’. In a press conference in 2017, he called HYV an ‘organised gang’ that incites riots and persecutes Muslims, Dalits, OBCs and Nishads.
He has often said that the goraksh peeth of Gorakhpur belongs to the Nishads claiming that “Goraksh peeth was established by Maharaja Matsyendra Nath, born in the Ghivar family of the Nishad dynasty, which was later captured by the Manuwadis.”
He defeated the BJP candidate in the 2018 Gorakhpur Lok Sabha by-election with the support of SP, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Peace Party. A year later, he joined the NDA. In the last assembly elections, he got the seats of Chaurichaura, Nautanwa, Mehdawal, Tamkuhi, Khadda from Gorakhpur and neighboring districts for the Nishad party. As a result, several leaders close to Yogi Adityanath could not contest the elections. One of them contested the polls as a rebel but lost.
Whether it is life turning a full circle or the stratagem of the BJP’s top leadership, call it what you may, but Purvanchal’s political cosmos, once dominated by Adityanath, now has four new stars. Whether it is merely a coincidence or an experiment carried out by the BJP top brass, Adityanath is being subtly besieged in his own bastion.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.