Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath will contest next month’s Assembly election from the Gorakhpur (Urban) seat, the BJP said Saturday afternoon, as it released its first list of candidates.
Yogi’s deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya, will contest the Sirathu seat in Prayagraj district.
Polling for the Gorakhpur (Urban) seat, which is the Chief Minister’s stronghold and voted him to the Lok Sabha for five straight terms till 2017, will be on March 3 – the sixth and penultimate phase.
“The decision has been made after much deliberation… the final decision (was taken) by the top leadership of the party,” Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan told reporters.
“Yogiji said ‘I will contest from any seat party asks me to’… This was the party’s decision,” Mr Pradhan said, dismissing speculation Yogi had been adamant about contesting from Gorakhpur. Sources had claimed he was more inclined to fight from Gorakhpur instead of starting over in a new constituency.
Minutes after the BJP announced Yogi Adityanath would contest from Gorakhpur, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav took a swipe at him, saying: “I like that the BJP has already sent him (the Chief Minister) to Gorakhpur. Yogi should stay there… there is no need for him to come from there.”
There was speculation earlier that the Chief Minister – who has never stood in an Assembly election before – could contest from one of two temple towns – Ayodhya or Mathura.
This was after the BJP’s core group expressed an interest in fielding Yogi from these seats, particularly after the eastern part of the state has been seen as drifting away from the party.
Fielding Yogi from Ayodhya, sources had said, would have checked many of the boxes as the ongoing construction of the Ram temple had boosted the seat’s political profile for the ruling party.
It would have also allowed him to capitalise on and further build his brand as Hindutva icon. The temple town falls in the Awadh region, where rivals Samajwadi Party have been traditionally strong.
On Wednesday sources told NDTV that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who chaired a meeting of the BJP’s Central Election Committee, would take the final call on Yogi’s candidacy.
The BJP, meanwhile, also faces internal dissidence in UP after 10 of its MLAs, including three ministers, walked out this week. Several, including influential OBC leaders and ex-ministers Dharam Singh Saini and Swami Prasad Maurya, have since joined rival Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.
In today’s list the BJP also named candidates for 105 other seats, of which it won 83 in 2017. The winning MLAs from 63 of these seats have been retained, with the remaining 20 new faces.
Significantly, 44 of the 107 candidates named today are from OBC communities (votes from them are widely seen as critical to winning the UP election), with 19 others from Scheduled Castes.
Only 10 women candidates have been named by the BJP.
Candidates for the other 296 seats in UP’s 403-member Assembly will be announced later.
Uttar Pradesh votes for a new government in a seven-phase poll that begins on February 10, with results to be counted on March 10.