Rashid Qureshi (name changed), a police constable, plans to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with Modi driving his choice
Gorakhpur, which will vote on 19 May, is leaning towards BJP again, basing its vote on the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s work
Prakash has spent three days at Gorakhpur’s infamous Baba Raghav Das Medical College, where his father is undergoing treatment for a heart ailment. The hospital made headlines worldwide in August 2017 after the lack of oxygen supply led to the death of 63 children in four days. Prakash is rather relaxed now as his father’s condition has improved.
He and his three brothers are discussing the chances behenji (Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati) has against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Being scheduled castes, they’ve grown up hearing the refrain “inka vote to waheen jaayega (their vote will go to Mayawati)". They intend to change that.“There is a difference between five and 60 years. Give the man some more time, his heart is in the right place," Prakash said.
Rashid Qureshi (name changed), a police constable, plans to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with Modi driving his choice. He said people were upset with the “too aggressive, too extreme" Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, but are willing to support Modi at the centre. “Modi doesn’t discriminate on the basis of caste and religion. His schemes are universal and he delivers," he said. The BJP could canvass Muslim communities, he said. “The BJP would get more Muslim votes if it asked us," he said.
Gorakhpur, which will vote on 19 May, is leaning towards BJP again, basing its vote on the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s work to improve roads, provide electricity, and roll out subsidy schemes. It has voted for BJP since 1991. Till he became chief minister in 2017 and vacated the seat, Gorakhpur had sent Adityanath to the Lok Sabha five times.
In the 2018 by-election, the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) Praveen Kumar Nishad won. This time, BJP’s Ravi Kishan, a Bhojpuri actor, is up against SP’s Rambhual Nishad and Madhusudhan Tripathi of Congress, but it is Modi everyone is talking about.
At his pan shop in Golghar market, Triloki Jaiswal is watching the news on TV. He described Modi as “a big unifier". His wife got a cooking gas connection under the Prime Minister’s Ujjwala scheme. His relatives received a pakka makaan (concrete house) under the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana. “Itna kaafi nahi hai (Isn’t this enough)?" he said.
Gorakhpur is a city where cattle and humans live in stressful harmony. Since Adityanath introduced laws to protect cows, the animals have eaten into the incomes of farmers. At a rally with SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati dwells on this to cheers from the crowd.
On the sidelines, there’s skepticism. “Most of this crowd has been brought from outside Gorakhpur," said Ram Awadh Nishad, who is hawking snacks. His vote is decided: “Modi desh ke liye laga hua hai. Din raat mehnat karta hai (Modi works day and night for the nation)."
Within the BJP, there is a sense that Adityanath has played a shrewd game. “Yogi is scared that if Upendra wins, Gorakhpur would slip out of his hands whereas an outsider like Kishan will help retain his hold," a BJP worker said, referring to BJP veteran Upendra Shukla who lost the 2018 bypoll.
Adityanath is widely believed to have engineered Shukla’s loss and has since coaxed sitting MP Praveen Nishad into the BJP, and given him a ticket for Sant Kabir Nagar. This way, Gorakhpur remains his fiefdom, while Nishad and his father bring in Nishad votes in Gorakhpur. Nishads, an other backward class group, dominate Sant Kabir Nagar and Gorakhpur, with Brahmins and SCs.
Anshuman Rai, a medical representative, is quick to dismiss the gathbandhan. “There was discontent among Brahmins but 10% quota for economically weaker upper castes took care of that," he said.
Subodh Kumar, an SC from Misaulia village who works in Gorakhpur, says the roads are better in both the city and his village. “Electricity is regular in my village," he says. “This poll is to elect a prime minister. Mayawati can’t be PM," he says, laughing off concerns that he hasn’t got a job despite holding an M.Com. degree.