Speculation is rife over UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s recent surprise visit to the Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple in Varanasi. While SP leader Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati have slammed him for doing a temple run during the EC campaign ban on him, it seems Yogi was on a political mission to Varanasi’s famous pilgrimage site.

The Varanasi grapevine is buzzing with chatter that Yogi was sent to the temple to do PR on behalf of the BJP with head priest Vishwambhar Nath Mishra. The visit happened amid rumours that the Congress is trying to persuade Mishra to contest against Narendra Modi in Varanasi as a consensus candidate of the combined opposition.

Mishra is highly respected in Varanasi and is known for his strong secular and broadminded views. He created a stir in Varanasi two years ago when he allowed women wrestlers into the male-dominated traditional akhada Goswami Tulsidas. He was also critical of the campaign by right-wing nationalists to paint young college student Gurmehar Kaur as unpatriotic for her peace post with Pakistan.

It is unlikely that Mishra would enter the election fray. He is strongly religious and politics may not be his cup of tea. He also combines his duties as head priest of the Sankat Mochan temple with his day job as professor in the department of electronics at BHU’s IIT.

Still, the rumours obviously spread panic in the BJP camp, which is why Yogi was sent during his enforced rest period.

There is no news about who will contest against Modi. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra have added to the suspense with noncommittal comments.

Unusual campaign

In the winter of his life, the onceactive SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav is conducting an unusual campaign to win his Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat. His precarious health does not allow him to move around much. So he is campaigning from home over the telephone. The only exception he made was to attend the gathbandhan’s joint rally in Mainpuri where he created history by sharing the dais with arch rival Mayawati.

At his age and his stage of life, Mulayam can perhaps afford to do this. He knows all his party workers by name. He is also well connected with the network of SP supporters in Mainpuri. He knows virtually every member of the Yadav community in the constituency, or at least the important influential ones. In any case, Mainpuri is considered the safest seat in UP for the leader of the Yadavs.

According to those in the know, Mulayam spends his days dialling his network in Mainpuri. These are the wonders of mobile connectivity and technology. His team uses social media platforms to spread the word among younger voters.

Interestingly, Mulayam has put his network at the disposal of cousin Ram Gopal Yadav’s son, Akshay Yadav, who is contesting from neighbouring Firozabad. Mulayam’s involvement in Akshay’s campaign is significant because the younger Yadav’s chief opponent is his uncle and Mulayam’s brother Shivpal Yadav.

Circles close to Mulayam say that he is dialing Yadvas and SP workers in Firozabad with orders to ensure Akshay’s victory. This puts him squarely on the same side as his son, scotching speculation that he is secretly supporting his brother Shivpal.

Yogi sidelined

It seems Yogi Adityanath has again been marginalised in the selection of the BJP candidate from his home turf of Gorakhpur. According to sources in the BJP, he was opposed to Ravi Kishan who has been named as the party’s nominee.

Ravi Kishan, a Brahmin from neighbouring Jaunpur, is a Bhojpuri and Hindi film actor. Ironically, he was the Congress candidate against Yogi in 2014 and of course, he lost badly.

Yogi is believed to have pushing the name of a Thakur from his Hindu Yuva Vahini. Alternatively, he suggested that if the party wanted a Brahmin, he should have the final say in the choice.

But state BJP organization secretary with powerful links to the RSS, Suresh Bansal, and Amit Shah overruled him and named Ravi Kishan. In the 2017 Lok Sabha bye-poll in Gorakhpur, Yogi was ignored in candidate selection. That time too, the Bansal- Shah combine picked a Brahmin of their choice and foisted him on Yogi.

The bye-poll was a test case for the SP-BSP alliance and it passed with flying colours. The BJP nominee lost a seat that has been with the party for the last six elections.

Political circles are wondering whether the BJP nominee this time is heading for a similar fate.

Shotgun’s predicament

Shatrughan Sinha has been named star campaigner for the Congress, leaving his supporters in Patna Sahib, where he is contesting, worried whether he’ll have the time to campaign for himself.

With a plane and helicopter at his disposal, Shotgun has already campaigned in several constituencies in Bihar. After giving wife Poonam Sinha moral support when she filed her papers as SP nominee from Lucknow, the film actor is off to Mangalore to campaign for the Congress.

He is also slated to tour Gujarat and Mumbai. More areas may be added to his list.

Polling is on May 12 in Patna Sahib so there is plenty of time for Shotgun to campaign in his seat. But his supporters worry that his long absence will weaken his chances. Patna is a strong BJP seat and although Shotgun has won it twice in the past, this time he is contesting as a Congress nominee, not a BJP candidate.