The Bharatiya Janata Party has dropped 37 of its sitting MPs in the fifth candidate list released on Sunday for the Lok Sabha elections.

Among the prominent names that have been denied a ticket are Anantkumar Hegde, six-time MP from Karnataka’s Uttar Kannada constituency, Pilibhit MP Varun Gandhi, Union minister and Buxar MP Ashwini Kumar Choubey, former Union minister and Bareilly MP Santosh Gangwar, and Meerut MP Rajendra Agarwal.

Hegde has been replaced by former Karnataka Assembly Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kaggeri. Gandhi has been replaced by Uttar Pradesh minister Jitin Prasada.

While the party has fielded Mithlesh Tiwari in place of Choubey, Gangwar has been replaced by Chattrapal Singh Gangwar and Agarwal by actor Arun Govil.

Govil had played the role of the Hindu deity Ram in Ramanand Sagar’s television adaptation of the epic Ramayana.

The BJP has so far announced 398 candidates for elections to the 543 seats in the Lower House of parliament.

Earlier this month, Hegde had publicly called for voters to ensure a two-thirds majority to the saffron party in the Lok Sabha to enable amendments to the Constitution and undo the “unnecessary laws introduced to subjugate the Hindu community”. The BJP had distanced itself from Hegde’s comments.

Gandhi has been a vocal critic of the Union government’s policies in recent years. In 2021, he was dropped from the BJP’s national executive committee after he criticised the violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district where eight people, including four farmers, were killed during a protest against the Centre’s now-repealed agriculture laws.

He had said that protestors “cannot be silenced through murder” and justice must be delivered “before a message of arrogance and cruelty enters the minds of every farmer”.

On Sunday, Union minister and two-time Ghaziabad MP General (Retd) VK Singh announced that he does not plan to contest the general elections. He has been replaced by Atul Garg. VK Singh is a former Army chief.

Other MPs who have been denied tickets according to the BJP’s latest list of candidates include Odisha MP and Union minister Bisweshwar Tudu from the Mayurbhaj constituency, Suresh Pujari from Bargarh, Nitish Gang Deb from Sambalpur and Basant Panda from Kalahandi.

In Bihar, Muzaffarpur MP Ajay Nishad has been denied a ticket and replaced by Raj Bhushan Nishad. Sasaram MP Shivesh Ram has been replaced by Chhedi Paswan.

In West Bengal, Bardhaman-Durgapur MP SS Ahluwalia has been replaced by Medinipur MP Dilip Ghosh.

On March 3, former Union health minister and BJP leader Dr Harsh Vardhan announced his retirement from active politics a day after the saffron party released its first list of Lok Sabha candidates.

The party fielded businessman and general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders, Praveen Khandelwal, from Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency instead of Vardhan, who has held the seat since 2014.

On March 2, BJP MPs Gautam Gambhir and Jayant Sinha said that they have asked the BJP’s party chief JP Nadda to relieve them of their electoral duties. Gambhir, a cricketer-turned-politician, represents the East Delhi Lok Sabha constituency while Sinha has been the MP from Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh constituency since 2014.

The saffron party also decided to field MLA Ramvir Singh Bidhuri in the South Delhi Lok Sabha constituency instead of Ramesh Bidhuri. In September, Ramesh Bidhuri had used communal slurs against Muslim MP Danish Ali during a debate in the Lok Sabha on the success of India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar mission.