Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh: A smiling Yogi Adityanath, flashing the ubiquitous victory sign after casting his vote this morning for the Lok Sabha by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, told NDTV that he was confident of "victory margins as big as in 2014". The UP Chief Minister was referring to the BJP's stunning win in the general elections in 2014 where it snapped up 71 of 80 seats in the state. UP is voting today for Gorakhpur and Phulpur; both were vacated by Mr Adityanath and his deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya after the BJP swept the assembly elections last year.
- In Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath was among the early voters this morning
- He said he is confident of regaining Gorakhpur, Phulpur with huge margin
- He also called the SP-BSP deal "impure and opportunistic"
"I am not worried at all," Yogi Adityanath, among the early voters, told NDTV. The by-elections, described by the Chief Minister as a rehearsal for the general elections next year, are being seen as a prestige battle for the BJP. While Gorakhpur is the 45-year-old saffron-robed leader's home turf (he won the Lok Sabha seat five times in a row), Phulpur - once represented by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru - was won by the BJP for the first time in 2014.
The elections have assumed greater significance in light of changed political dynamics in Uttar Pradesh. Last week, former chief minister Mayawati, who heads the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), announced that her party would "vote for a candidate who will be in a position to defeat the BJP". While it was immediately inferenced as an alliance with arch rival Samajwadi Party - the BSP has not fielded candidate for both seats - Ms Mayawati firmly denied it, saying that the arrangement was only to keep the BJP at bay and "there is nothing wrong in it".
Chief Minister Adityanath had then slammed the SP-BSP understanding as "the coming together of a mongoose and a snake when a storm brews". Calling it "impure and opportunistic", Mr Adityanath today said that the "alliance is bound to fail".
The SP and the BSP are also pooling resources for elections for Rajya Sabha seats from the state later this month and legislative council elections due soon.
Ms Mayawati's announcement immediately triggered talk about whether this would lead to a Bihar-like experiment of regional rivals coming together to take on the BJP ahead of the 2019 national election, when the BJP hopes Uttar Pradesh - with its 80 parliament seats - will power a big win for it at the centre like it did in 2014.
The Congress, which tied up with the Samajwadi Party for the assembly elections last year to disastrous effect, has fielded candidates on both seats. "Congress candidates not standing down for SP-BSP was a decision of the high command... if this were assembly elections, we would have thought about an alliance... in a Lok Sabha election, the Congress is a strong party," Dr Surhita Kareem, the party's candidate from Gorakhpur, told NDTV.