Hectic efforts by Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah to convince the party’s rebel candidates to drop out of the fray ahead of Saturday – the deadline for withdrawing nominations for the sixth phase of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh – have largely fallen on deaf ears. Barring three candidates, all others refused to do so. Some even told the BJP chief that they couldn’t trust the promises made by the party leadership anymore.

“Amit Shah talked to me over the phone and said that I would be duly rewarded in the future if I withdrew my candidature,” said Pappu Pandey, a rebel candidate from Padrauna. “I told him that these are hollow promises and that leaders who used to keep promises are nowhere to be seen.”

The leaders he referred to were BJP veterans Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, said Pandey.

The BJP has fielded former Bahujan Samaj Party leader Swami Prasad Maurya from Padrauna.

“For the last few years party leaders made me believe that if I worked hard I would be made candidate from Padrauna,” said Pandey. “But I was shocked when I saw the list of candidates. It was nothing but backstabbing.”

Pandey said that over the last two days, he has also received calls from the BJP’s state unit president Keshav Prasad Maurya, and other senior party leaders.

Rebels adamant

Shah and a battery of central and state party leaders camped in Gorakhpur on Friday and Saturday where they made a last ditch effort to persuade the party’s rebel candidates to withdraw their nominations before the deadline for doing so.

Pandey is not the only rebel who shunned their overtures.

At least 12 BJP rebels, contesting from different seats in Gorakhpur and Basti divisions in eastern Uttar Pradesh, told this reporter that the BJP brass sought to prevail upon them to withdraw their nominations, but they refused to budge.

Ajay Govind Rao, a rebel candidate from Khadda in Kusinagar district, refused to take calls from Amit Shah and other senior BJP leaders. “It was pointless to talk to them,” he said. “They kept on calling me but I decided not to talk to them because they had ditched me.”

The BJP’s official candidate from Khadda is Jatashankar Tiwari.

A total of 49 seats are scheduled to go to the polls on March 4, the sixth phase of the state’s seven-phase elections. Rebels have filed their nominations opposite the BJP’s official candidates in a large number of these seats, falling mainly in 10 districts of Gorakhpur and Basti divisions.

Local BJP leaders agree that the rebels are strong enough to dent the prospects of the party’s official candidates in over one-third of these seats.

The rebels are not only significant in number, they are being backed by the Hindu Yuva Vahini, which seems to have slipped out of the control of BJP’s Gorakhpur MP Adityanath. Though an apolitical body, the Hindu Yuva Vahini has a strong network of militant cadres in Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, Kusinagar, Deoria, Siddharth Nagar districts and some nearby areas.

“Until recently, the Hindu Yuva Vahini was a source of strength for Yogi Adityanath,” said its Uttar Pradesh president Sunil Singh. “Now it is standing like a rock with the rebels.”

Partial success

However, party chief Shah did not leave Gorakhpur empty-handed. In a press conference that he addressed just before leaving the town on Saturday, he said: “Many party workers wanted to contest because of the possibility of victory in this election. But it was not possible to field all of them. Now they have started realising their mistake. Today three rebel candidates have agreed to withdraw their nominations.”

The three rebel candidates Shah referred to were Ashwini Tripathi from Sahjanwa seat in Gorakhpur district, HN Patel from Madhuban in Mau district and Praveen Prakash from Belthara in Balia district.

Though none of the rebels who have chosen to stay in the fray might win, many of them, with the backing of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, threaten to eat up some of the BJP’s votes in these seats.