An election rally in Gorakhpur's Sahjanwa block on Tuesday afternoon was UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's fourth in 24 hours. And he has got many more lined up in the run up to the March 11 Lok Sabha by-polls for Gorakhpur, possibly after Holi.
"You have sent me to the Lok Sabha 5 times - I never went to each village. It was not possible for me because I had to campaign at many places. But my worker used to go. I did not even know where my party office was," he says, drawing applause and chants of Jai Shri Ram.
He didn't need to. This is a seat that sent Yogi Adityanath to parliament for five straight terms since 1998, the last one cut short by his surprise elevation as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister after the BJP's record-setting victory in the assembly elections.
Chief Minister Adityanath, who had secured over 50 per cent vote share in the last three elections, is the party's face in this by-election too though the BJP's candidate is Upendra Dutt Shukla, a local BJP leader. It is Mr Shukla's first election.
Mr Shukla has been with the Gorakhpur party unit for over three decades, and was once the BJP's district president.
Sources said the UP Chief Minister initially wanted someone from the Gorakhnath temple - a monastic order he heads in Gorakhpur - to be named the candidate instead of Mr Shukla. But a meeting between Yogi Adityanath and BJP president Amit Shah a fortnight ago in Delhi sealed the deal in Mr Shukla's favour.
It helps the ruling party that the concept of opposition unity - the talk about opposition parties joining hands even with their traditional rivals after the BJP's stunning victory in the 2017 assembly elections - is in tatters.
Mayawati's BSP, reduced to just 19 seats in the 403-seat assembly, is not contesting this by-poll and has not announced its support to any candidate either. The Samajwadi Party and the Congress which fought last year's assembly polls together without much success have put up candidates for the by-polls.
Neither of them have deputed any high-profile leaders to lead the party's candidate. Sources say SP chief Akhilesh Yadav may campaign for the SP candidate after March 05, just days before voting.
It is not clear if Congress president Rahul Gandhi will even campaign for his party's candidate, Dr Surhita Kareem, a renowned gynaecologist and long-time Congress leader in Gorakhpur. "It is not the question of whether everyone fighting together automatically converts into a win. We have seen in the past there are so many equations when you contest an election," says Dr Kareem.
36-year-old Praveen Kumar Nishad of the Nishad Party - that represents the backward classes Nishad group which has a significant presence in Gorakhpur - is fighting on a Samajwadi Party symbol. Mr Nishad, an engineer by profession, hopes Ms Mayawati will make an appeal in his favour.
"If BSP announces support in our favour, we can fight the communal forces effectively," he says, hoping that people would not hesitate to vote against the BJP this time because its chief priest Yogi Adityanath wasn't a candidate. Thus, a vote against the BJP won't be construed as a vote against Gorakhnath temple, he says.
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