With barely a week left for voting for the crucial by-elections to Gorakhpur and Phulpur parliamentary constituencies, political parties in UP are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that they emerge victorious in the Lok Sabha bypolls which are being viewed as a "rehearsal" for the 2019 general elections.
The ruling BJP, which had registered an overwhelming win in the 2017 UP Assembly polls bagging 325 out of 403 seats along with its allies, will be attempting to retain both the seats and register victory with a bigger margin, while the focus of the opposition political parties will be to topple the BJP's apple cart.
The bypolls were necessitated after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya vacated the Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats respectively, following their election to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council.
For the BJP, Gorakhpur is significant as it is the bastion of the chief minister, who has represented the seat in the Lok Sabha five times. Prior to Yogi Adityanath, the seat was thrice represented in Parliament by his mentor Yogi Avaidyanath.
Phulpur was once the bastion of the Congress and represented by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It had, for the first time, witnessed a saffron surge in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, when Maurya won the seat.
The by-elections are expected to witness a triangular contest among the ruling BJP, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress.
The saffron party has fielded Kaushalendra Singh Patel from Phulpur and Upendra Dutt Shukla from Gorakhpur against the SP's Pravin Nishad and Nagendra Pratap Singh Patel respectively. Sureetha Kareem is the Congress candidate from Gorakhpur. The party has fielded Manish Mishra from Phulpur.
Exuding confidence that the BJP will sweep the March 11 bypolls in the state, UP BJP spokesperson Manish Shukla told PTI, "BJP is fighting the elections on the issue of development. We are confident that not only will we win the bypolls, but also widen the victory margin as compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections."
He added, March 11 is a significant date for us, as it was on this day in 2017 that the BJP and its allies bagged 325 out of the 403 Assembly seats in UP.
"In 2017, we had banked on the performance of Modi government only. Now, we have the achievements of Yogi and Modi governments (to show to the people of the state)," Shukla said.
UP deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, who had represented Phulpur in Lok Sabha and was also a former chief of UP BJP, in an earlier interview to PTI had said, "The lotus (BJP's poll symbol) will bloom in both the seats. I have no doubt about this. The very fact that people are talking mostly about the BJP's winning margin is itself an indicator that the party is going to win. You can be rest assured that we are going to improve our margin in both the seats."
He added, "As soon as the bye-elections were announced, the opposition parties started discussing the victory margin. This is a clear indication that the lotus will bloom in Gorakhpur and Phulpur."
Maurya also said as far as the vote-share is concerned, "60 per cent is ours and the rest is for the others to share".
UP Congress spokesperson Ashok Singh, however, was of the view that winning the Lok Sabha bypolls will rather be a difficult task for the BJP.
He said, "People in UP are looking for a change. I am confident that voters in the by-elections will give a befitting reply to the BJP for their anti-people policies."