Caste calculus and more: Why Bihar-based parties sense an opportunity in Uttar Pradesh elections

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Updated: August 25, 2021 2:52 PM

There are several reasons why these parties are testing the political deep waters that elections in Uttar Pradesh are, and have in fact tried before as well.

There are several reasons why these parties are testing the political deep waters that elections in Uttar Pradesh are, and have in fact tried before as well.

There is no denying the fact that the road to national politics in Delhi passes through Uttar Pradesh and elections in this politically-crucial state are seen as an opportunity by regional as well as national parties. With 403 assembly seats – the highest in any state – UP elections play a decisive role in the run-up to the polls to install a central leadership in Delhi.

The elections in UP, scheduled early next year, will see several Bihar-based political parties flexing their muscle alongside incumbents like the BJP, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress-led UPA. Leaders of Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular), the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) have been holding several meetings in the state to mobilise party workers ahead of polls.

There are several reasons why these parties are testing the political deep waters that elections in Uttar Pradesh are, and have in fact tried before as well. However, they have miserably failed to mark their presence, owing to the fact that they are ‘outsiders’ in a state, which has majorly traditional voters.

While JDU, LJP and VIP are alliance partners of the NDA in Bihar, Sangit Ragi, HOD – Political Science Department at Delhi University, tells FinancialExpress.com that Bihar-based parties are actually trying to dent the BJP’s prospects in Bihar.

Also, these are caste-based parties which are eyeing their respective caste votes to expand their footprints in Uttar Pradesh. Different regions in the state are dominated by different castes and communities, for instance, Awadh and Purvanchal are dominated by Brahmins, Yadavs dominate areas of western UP and those bordering Bihar in east UP. The Bihar-based parties tend to target specific regions based on the perception of which caste votes in their favour.

These caste-centric parties add heft to the bigger parties like the BJP, SP, BSP and Congress in the election as even a few thousand votes can make or Mar the chances of candidates.

In the 2017 state polls, as many as eight candidates of different parties had triumphed by a margin of less than 1000 votes, according to the Election Commission data. The lowest victory margin was of 171 votes in Doomariyaganj, where the BJP’s Raghvendra Singh defeated BSP candidate Saiyada Khooton.

“The UP elections are in a way the semi final for 2024 general elections and both are interested in its outcome. A loss here will weaken BJP and give a fillip to united opposition efforts which RJD is currently engaged in,” opined political strategist Amitabh Tiwari while speaking to FinancialExpress.com

JD(U): The opportunity for Nitish Kumar 

Nitish Kumar’s party is planning to field candidates on around 200 seats in Uttar Pradesh. The party has said that it is eager to contest the polls in alliance with the BJP, but if the alliance talks fail, it would go it alone, like it did in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam.

Tiwari suggested that the 2020 Bihar poll results, where the BJP bagged 74 seats, JD(U) garnered 43 while VIP and HAM won four seats each, allowing the saffron party to clip its wings in the state.

“A loss here for the BJP will also allow Nitish to extract his pound of flesh by furthering his grip on the Bihar administration. With the exit of key allies like Shiv Sena and Akali Dal, BJP’s dependence on the JDU will increase further,” he said.

“Nitish is peeved at BJP’s secret pact with LJP in Bihar to clip his wings. So, maybe Kumar is looking at a tit-for-tat by taking up the caste based census issue and harm BJP’s prospects. A weaker BJP is beneficial for allies like him,” Tiwari added.

Meanwhile, Ragi suggests that Nitish Kumar is now aware of the fact that he doesn’t have a political career in Bihar and may also be of the view that the BJP dented the JD(U)’s performance in last year’s assembly polls.

“He is probably looking towards snapping the ties with the BJP and that is why he is advancing the argument of caste census, which the BJP may or may not agree with. Also, it is possible that Kumar is seeing a vacuum in the opposition and we might see him standing against the NDA in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections,” he said.

The JD(U) also hopes to capitalise on the popularity of Kumar, a Kurmi, in eastern and central seats including Mirzapur, Sonbhadra, Sant Kabir Nagar, Unnao, Jalaun, Fatehpur, Pratapgarh, Kaushambi, Allahabad, Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Siddharth Nagar, Basti, Barabanki, Kanpur, Akbarpur, Etah, Bareilly and Lakhimpur Kheri.

RJD: Seeking a slice of the action

On August 2, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav met Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and party chief Akhilesh Yadav in Delhi, setting off a buzz about their alliance. But, the SP had wholeheartedly supported the RJD in Bihar and the RJD is bound to reciprocate, with Tejashwi Yadav likely to campaign for the SP.

“RJD along with SP, are part of the ongoing united opposition front talks. Lalu and Mulayam are ‘samadhis’. So RJD will naturally work towards weakening the prospects of BJP in Uttar Pradesh. With Nitish on his side on the issue of caste census, Tejashwi is also trying to put the Modi government in an embarrassing position,” said Mr Tiwari.

“Both Nitish and Lalu consider themselves the champions of backward classes and UP is the hotbed of OBC politics and they want to have a slice of the action. But odds are stacked heavily against them,” he added.

Can LJP taste success? 

Party MP Chirag Paswan carried out an Ashirwad Yatra across Uttar Pradesh earlier this month to activate cadre in the state and also met Akhilesh Yadav during the rally.

Chirag, after the demise of his father  Ram Vilas Paswan, is engaged in a bitter battle for the party’s control with uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras. So, it is possible that the LJP may be looking into the possibility of expanding its presence out of Bihar, and there is no better option for Paswan, given the party’s alliance with the BJP.

The LJP had earlier contested in 2007 and 2012. With UP already having several claimants to SC votes, the LJP is not expected to taste any major success.    

HAM: The Manjhi, Machua and Kewat factor

For former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi-led HAM, this will be a debut in Uttar Pradesh, albeit in alliance with the BJP.

After a meeting with UP CM Yogi Adityanath on August 2, Manjhi’s son Santosh Suman, a minister in the Bihar government, said: “My party enjoys influence over Manjhi, Machua and Kewat communities settled in eastern UP. Whether we will fight in alliance with the BJP or alone is yet to be decided.”

He claimed that the issues faced by the SC communities in both states were largely the same. In UP, SCs account for 22 per cent of the entire population. Of the state’s 403 assembly seats, 86 are reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

VIP: Banking on Phoolan Devi

Led by Bihar minister Mukesh Sahani, the party seeks to cash in on the legacy of bandit queen Phoolan Devi, eyeing Nishad votes. It had announced to set up statues of Phoolan Devi in Almihra village on her death anniversary, but was stopped by police. Now, it plans to install 50,000 statues in its workers’ houses and distribute 5 lakh lockets carrying her photo among Nishad community members. The Nishads, numbering 5,000-20,000 in each constituency of eastern and central districts, make up about four per cent of the OBC population.

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