Voters in Pilibhit have moved on from Varun Gandhi. The BJP has not just dumped him in favour of the Congress import Jitin Prasada as their candidate, the party is marshalling all its troops to ensure that his replacement sails through the contest.

From Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who has made three visits here during the campaigning, to PM Modi’s rally here, and a spate of state ministers who have made a beeline here, the BJP has gathered all bigwigs in Pilibhit to stamp out any remaining resentment about the denial of a party ticket to Gandhi.

Varun quiet

Dumping Gandhi, however, came as no surprise as he had been baiting the BJP leadership for a while; attacking the state government for several decisions during the Covid-19 pandemic, picking up public quarrels with Yogi Adityanath and siding with the farmers’ movement at Delhi borders. He has, however, refused to say anything publicly against the BJP since he was denied a ticket, showing uncharacteristic restraint that locals in Pilibhit attribute to his mother, Maneka Gandhi, still being in the BJP. Maneka Gandhi is the BJP candidate from Sultanpur¸ a seat she had won previously as well.

The fact that he has chosen to stay quiet has made things easier for Jitin Prasada who would have had a tough time had Gandhi decided to contest as an independent or openly rebelled against the BJP. The BJP’s chief competitor here, the Samajwadi Party (SP), however, claims that Gandhi is backing them on the sly.

Voters background

“He has 1.5 lakh solid supporters. He is helping us from the inside,” said Yogesh Yadav, a local SP bigwig who is managing the election of SP-Congress alliance candidate Bhagwat Sharan Gangwar. The BSP has put up a Muslim – Phool Babu Anis Ahmad Khan – in this constituency. There are about 5.50 lakh Muslim voters in this constituency which has a total of 18.31 lakh voters. There are about 2.75 lakh Dalit voters as well. The BJP gets the support of not just upper caste and OBC voters but some sections of the Dalits as well. Besides, there are about 60,000 Sikh voters who have largely been supporting the BJP. Kurmis and Lodh Rajputs, who are each over three lakh in numbers, have also been supporting the BJP.

Although the SP insiders say that the Sikhs are upset with the BJP owing to the farmers’ agitation and denial of ticket to Gandhi, most Sikh voters that businessline spoke to did not agree.

“A large chunk of the Sikh voters will go with the BJP,” said Harvinder Singh, a Sikh farmer who had come to Pilibhit town to attend a road show with which Prasada was rounding up his campaign. This constituency goes to polls in the first phase on April 19.

As the campaign came to an end with Prasada’s road show in Pilibhit town, most voters seemed to have moved on from Varun Gandhi.

“He was our MP but now Jitin Prasada is the candidate. It all does not matter much since our vote will go to the BJP. It is the party that matters,” said Arvind Saxena who runs a hardware store in Chhatri Chauraha in the town.