Lok Sabha election 2024 | Arun Govil returns home for a political battle

Lok Sabha election 2024 | Arun Govil returns home for a political battle

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BJP candidate from Hapur Lok Sabha constituency Arun Govil during a press conference, in Meerut, March 26, 2024.
| Photo Credit: PTI

For months, BJP supporters have been chanting how Narendra Modi has brought Ram home. This week, Meerut is abuzz with praise for the Prime Minister for bringing Arun Govil, the actor who played Ram in a popular television series in the 1980s, home as well by fielding him from his hometown. “Ram is back home for a political battle,” said Rajesh Bansal, a BJP supporter. The transition from a mythological to a political avatar, evokes the memory of N.T. Rama Rao and M.G Ramachandran, was imminent since last month when Mr. Govil played Mr. Modi with gusto in Article 370.

By fielding Mr. Govil, 72, from the tricky seat in western Uttar Pradesh, the BJP wants to secure the region by keeping Ram alive in the public imagination as he would be used as a star campaigner across the State.

BJP insiders say giving rest to three-time MP Rajendra Agarwal, who is of the same age and community as Mr. Govil and has deep roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh, was not an easy decision. However, it was on the cards after his narrow victory in the previous polls and his apparent disconnect with the new generation in the RSS.

The BJP is winning the seat consecutively for three terms but the presence of 19% SC voters and around 34% Muslims makes the Meerut Lok Sabha seat challenging to harvest for the saffron party. In 2019, Mr. Agarwal defeated Bahujan Samaj Party’s Haji Yaqoob Qureshi by a margin of just over 4,000 votes. A former Minister in the BSP government, Mr. Qureshi, a big player in the meat business, is facing a string of charges; the Gangster Act has been imposed against him and his properties have been attached. “There is a sense in the Muslim community that the administration made him lose the poll and that he is being targeted because of his political heft in the region,” said a Muslim leader requesting anonymity.

Surprise choice

The Samajwadi Party has also fielded a surprise choice in the form of Supreme Court advocate Bhanu Pratap Singh. Hailing from Koli community in the neighbouring Bulandshahr, Mr. Singh is leading a vociferous campaign against EVMs and has a huge social media following. A local SP leader said he was a surprise choice because senior Muslim and Gurjar leaders were in the fray but party president Akhilesh Yadav wants to crack the caste arithmetic this time. “Mr. Singh is expected to create a Dalit-Muslim alliance,” he said. Mr. Singh’s father was an associate of Chaudhary Charan Singh and he was active with the Rashtriya Lok Dal during the farmer agitation.

Political observers say the BSP candidate is going to help the INDIA alliance. The party has resisted fielding a Muslim or Dalit candidate and fielded Devvrit Tyagi to mine the discontent in the Tyagi community against the BJP after the Shrikant Tyagi episode.

SP spokesperson Abdul Hafiz Gandhi described Mr. Govil as a good person in the wrong party. “We all have grown up watching his performance in the Ramayan but his candidature means the BJP was feeling threatened in Meerut and surrounding constituencies. By fielding a celebrity, the BJP has yet again proved that it didn’t want to fight the election on real issues and wants to exploit the emotive matters.”

Maintained distance

On Tuesday, Mr. Govil, while speaking to reporters in Delhi, praised Mr. Modi for building the Ram Temple quickly but deflected questions on why he had opted to join politics now. Over the years, Mr. Govil has been approached by different political parties but he chose to maintain a healthy distance from politics even when Arvind Trivedi and Deepika Chikhlia, actors who played Ravan and Sita respectively, joined the BJP at the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. The closest he came to politics was when he campaigned for Congress candidate Sunil Shastri in the Allahabad by-poll in 1988 against V.P. Singh. It was the time when Singh was riding the anti-corruption wave and the Congress brought in Mr Govil, dressed in saffron robes to seek divine blessings. He could not save Mr. Shastri from defeat and stayed away from politics.

In a 2019 interview with The Hindu, he said, “Having studied in Meerut, Saharanpur, and Mathura, I experienced aggression in day-to-day life, but it never touched me. I looked for peaceful ways to sort out conflicts.”

In the interview, he didn’t approve of using Lord Ram as a political tool and the aggression surrounding him. “Ram has not become aggressive; it is the political climate that has. My simple question is if everybody is going to accept the court’s judgment, why create such a big movement around Ram which created fissures and bitterness in society,” he had said.

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