BJP MP from Sultanpur Maneka Gandhi and her son, and outgoing MP from Pilibhit Varun Gandhi.
BJP MP from Sultanpur Maneka Gandhi and her son, and outgoing MP from Pilibhit Varun Gandhi.FILE photo | EPS

Maneka, Varun not in fray after three decades, BJP goes full steam with LS polls campaign in Pilibhit

Though Jitin Prasada claims to have the full support of the party organisation, locals claim those close to Varun are not happy with the BJP's decision.

PILIBHIT: For the first time in more than three decades, the mother-son duo of Maneka and Varun Gandhi will not be in the fray from the Pilibhit constituency for which the BJP is going full throttle with Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to address a mega election rally here on Tuesday.

The party has denied a ticket to sitting MP Varun Gandhi from the constituency that has been represented either by him or his mother since 1996. Instead, it has fielded Uttar Pradesh Minister Jitin Prasada from the seat.

Pilibhit goes to polls on April 19 in the first of the seven-phase parliamentary elections.

Prasada, who won the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls from Shahjahanpur and Dharura constituencies, respectively, on a Congress ticket, crossed over to the BJP in 2021. So far, he is the only Uttar Pradesh cabinet minister to be fielded in this Lok Sabha polls.

However, the member of the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council is facing the uphill task of making a political ground for himself in Pilibhit, where locals express a deep connection with Varun Gandhi.

"Jitin Prasada has very little influence in Pilibhit. As of now, he is being seen as an outsider fielded up by the BJP for the polls here," said Sushil Kumar Gangwar, a retired college principal.

Maneka Gandhi won the seat on a Janata Dal ticket in 1989, lost in 1991 and won again in 1996. She won from the constituency again in 1998 and 1999 as an Independent candidate. She won the seat in 2004 and 2014 as a BJP candidate. Varun Gandhi won the seat in 2009 and 2019 as a BJP candidate.

Maneka is seeking reelection from Sultanpur, which she won as a BJP candidate in 2019.

Baburam Lodhi, a local village head, said, "Varun Gandhi's connection with Pilibhit is very old and deep. This bond was reflected in the emotional letter he wrote after being denied nomination from the seat."

Varun Gandhi wrote an emotional letter to the people of his constituency in which he asserted that his relationship with them would remain intact till his last breath. The incumbent MP asserted that his relationship with Pilibhit is one of love and trust, which is far above any political calculations.

Though Jitin Prasada claims to have the full support of the party organisation, locals claim those close to Varun are not happy with the BJP's decision.

Prasada has so far remained tight-lipped on the issue. At public meetings, he describes himself as an ambassador of Modi and seeks votes in the prime minister's name. In a show of support for Prasada, BJP MLAs under the Pilibhit Lok Sabha constituency—Sanjay Gangwar, Baburam Paswan, Vivek Verma, and Swami Prakhashanand—were proposers in his nomination papers.

"Varun Gandhi has not come to Pilibhit even once after he was denied a ticket. He didn't even attend the election event of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and is likely to skip Prime Minister Modi's rally. This certainly gives a message," said Balwant Singh, a Sikh farmer in the Puranpur area of the district.

Party sources say that PM Modi's rally in Puranpur has been planned to "clear doubts in the minds of voters" and "push the case for Jitin Prasada."

The rally will be the first by a prime minister in the constituency in close to a decade. In 2014, then incumbent prime minister Manmohan Singh held a Lok Sabha poll rally in Pilibhit.

According to estimates, Pilibhit, located in the Terai belt bordering Nepal, has around 18 lakh electorates, with Kurmis being the third largest voter group after Muslims and Lodhis. The Mauryas, Pasis and Jatavs are seizable vote banks, followed by Bengalis, Brahamin and Sikhs.

The BJP's main rival, the Samajwadi Party, has fielded Bhagwat Saran Gangwar in the seat. A former minister, Gangwar, is said to have a hold on the influential Kurmi voters here.

In public meetings, the Samajwadi Party candidate toes the party line and speaks of saving democracy and protecting the rights of the PDA: "Pichhada (backwards), Dalit and Alpsankhyak (minorities)."

"The PDA family is being harassed by the ruling party and it will not stop till the government is changed. We also have to protect the Constitution from those who are adamant about changing it," he said.

However, unlike the BJP, which has organised public meetings of Chief Minster Yogi Adityanath, his deputy Brajesh Pathak and the party's state unit president Bhupendra Singh to canvass for Prasada, the top Samajwadi Party leadership has not held any rally for Bhagwat Saran Gangwar.

The BSP fielded Anis Ahmed, a former Uttar Pradesh minister, for the seat. Political observers feel that he can dent the Samajwadi Party's prospects in the constituency by attracting a substantial number of Muslim votes.

Ahmed has so far focused his campaign on Muslim pockets of the constituency.

"We have been neglected by both the BJP and SP. It is time that we realise this and unite with our Dalit brothers to take power," the BSP said in a public meeting here on Friday evening.

Pilibhit Lok Sabha constituency has five assembly segments: Baheri, Pilibhit, Barkhera, Puranpur and Bisalpur. In the 2022 assembly elections, the BJP recorded massive wins in four assembly segments. The Samajwadi Party managed victory in Baheri.

"The 2022 assembly election results are certainly a great motivator for the BJP. But the way they are campaigning for Jitin Prasada shows that the party doesn't want to leave anything to chance," said Dr Somendra Agarwal, a retired medical officer.

With over three dozen private hospitals in the city area itself, Pilibhit is a medical hub in the Terai belt after Bareilly. However, it has only one government degree college and it is for girls.

Locals complain about a dearth of industries in the region, except for a few prominent sugar mills.

"It is very difficult for a youngster belonging to the middle class to have growth opportunities here. It is the rich who are prospering," claimed Vivek Kumar Aggarwal, a political science student from here enrolled in a government college in the adjoining Bareilly district.

The district, however, has a thriving tourism economy, steered by the ecologically rich Pilibhit Tiger Reserve. However, growth in the sector is limited in the absence of sufficient infrastructure, like better road and rail connectivity. Major parts of the constituency suffer from flooding by the Sharda river in monsoons.

"The politicians have for long neglected the core issues of Pilibhit. People here have always voted over sentiments and that can change with time," said Pradeep Gangwar, a local trader.

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