Her husband worked with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its earlier avatar, the Jana Sangh, for about four decades in eastern Uttar Pradesh until his death from a cardiac arrest in May 2020.
In this assembly election, Subhavati Shukla, wife of the late Upendra Dutt Shukla, is challenging Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the BJP’s most formidable candidate in UP, in his bastion, Gorakhpur Urban, as a nominee of the Samajwadi Party (SP).
Gorakhpur Urban will go to the polls in the sixth phase of the assembly elections on March 3. Upendra Shukla, who was the UP BJP’s vice-president, unsuccessfully contested the by-election from the Gorakhpur parliamentary constituency in 2018 after the seat was vacated by Adityanath on becoming chief minister.
Subhavati Shukla, 55, stayed away from politics until January 20 when she and her two sons joined the SP in Lucknow. On February 7, her candidacy to the Gorakhpur Urban seat was announced.
The Shuklas have alleged that the BJP humiliated the family, ignoring Upendra’s Shukla’s contribution in building the party in Gorakhpur and beyond in eastern UP.
Subhavati says she is fighting the election for restoring the honour of her husband. “Everyone in Purvanchal (eastern UP) knows that my husband was with the BJP since the beginning. He was the state vice president when he died. Yogi Adityanath must have visited Gorakhpur at least 50 times since my husband’s death. He never got time to visit us,” she told Moneycontrol.
Restoring husband’s honour
“I am not fighting the election. It’s my husband who is fighting. And the way he was humiliated, this fight is to restore his honour,” she said.
After Upendra Shukla’s death on May 10, 2020, many political personalities, including Adityanath, expressed grief over his sudden and untimely demise, calling him a “committed worker and a wellwisher”.
The Shukla family had expected that Amit Dutt Shukla, the younger son, would get a nomination to the Gorakhpur Urban but when the candidacy of Adityanath was announced, the family rebelled and joined the SP.
“My father was an ardent party worker and lived according to the principles of (Jana Sangh ideologue) Deen Dayal Upadhyaya throughout his life. But no one cared for him after his death. We wanted to continue to work for the party like our father did, but they won’t care. They humiliated and ill-treated our father and his contribution,” said Arvind Dutt Shukla, the elder son.
Locals in Gorakhpur know of the rivalry between Upendra Shukla and Adityanath. Upendra Shukla had been close to SP Shukla, another BJP leader from eastern UP, and lost elections repeatedly. The losses were attributed to his alleged rivalry with Adityanath.
He fought the assembly elections in 1996 and 2007, and the assembly by-poll in 2005 from the Gorakhpur Rural seat. In 2005, he contested as an independent after the BJP denied him a nomination.
And in 2018, he unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha by-poll after Adityanath resigned as the Gorakhpur MP to head the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh.
But why did SP leader Akhilesh Yadav pick Subhavati Shukla, who hasn’t ever contested an election in the past, for a seat which has been a BJP bastion for years?
Many in Gorakhpur say Yadav wants to cash in on a perceived Thakur-Brahmin divide to breach the BJP’s consolidated vote bank. Upendra Shukla was a prominent Brahmin face of eastern UP, while Adityanath is a Thakur.
There is a perception, especially in eastern UP, that Brahmans have been ignored since a Thakur became chief minister. The denial of a party ticket for Amit Shukla for the seat added to the Brahmin versus Thakur narrative.
“I think Akhilesh Yadav is trying to get the sympathy of people for a widow. She is a Brahmin candidate. She might get some support from the minority community as well,” said Manoj Singh, a local journalist who runs Gorakhpur Newsline.
In December, another prominent Brahmin face of Gorakhpur, Hari Shankar Tiwari, a former Bahujan Samaj Party leader, joined the SP. Tiwari has for long been considered a rival of Adityanath.
Subhavati Shukla, however, denies the caste angle to her candidacy. “This region is an urban area which comes under the Chief Minister’s earlier constituency, and has been neglected. People here are yearning to see development. That is why they are blessing me. There is no caste factor at play. We will register a historic win this time,” she said.
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