Sunday, December 4, 2022

Purvanchal: The real test for allies of both BJP and SP in UP polls

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“You are not just an ally but rajmata for us,” Akhilesh Yadav told Krishna Patel at an inter-party meeting in Lucknow on January 12, offering her the head seat. That gesture held deep political meaning. Patel leads the Kamerawadi faction of the Apna Dal or AD (K). And Yadav knows the importance of Kurmi Patels who have a sizable presence in Purvanchal, eastern Uttar Pradesh, where SP is considered weak. AD (K) is fighting in six seats in alliance with Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP).

With the election juggernaut rolling across Purvanchal, the ruling BJP and the opposition SP are depending on the regional, caste-based parties such as AD (K) to widen their support base and win seats. The last two phases are a test for these regional allies.

BJP has allied with Apna Dal (Sonelal), or AD (S), and Nishad Party of Sanjay Nishad — both have their vote base in East UP. SP, which is giving a tough fight to the saffron party, has formed a rainbow coalition of 11 community-based parties to expand its presence across OBCs and Dalits. Some of the key allies are Omprakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP), Keshav Dev Maurya’s Mahan Dal, Sanjay Chauhan’s Janwadi Party (Socialist) and AD (K). Of these, SBSP and AD (K) have their vote base in eastern UP.

Purvanchal has 118 seats — while the northern parts went to polls on March 3, the rest will vote in the last phase on March 7. BJP and SP have given 45 seats for their allies in east UP. Meanwhile, BSP and Congress are fighting it alone in this election.

While AD (S) and AD (K) have a vote base among Kurmis, SBSP claims to be the leader of Rajbhars, both come under OBCs. SBSP, which won four of eight seats in alliance with BJP in 2017, is contesting in 18 seats now as an SP ally. Rajbhar was a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government till 2019.

BJP, with AD (S) by its side, is hoping to corner the Kurmi votes. “One must not forget that Apna Dal (S) won two Lok Sabha seats due to the BJP wave in 2014. Again, most of the nine seats they won in the assembly polls of 2017 was due to BJP.

This time I doubt it will win half the number of seats as SP seems to be giving a good fight. Besides, the face-off with AD (K) may chip away some of the voters,” says Raghvendra Pratap Singh, professor of political science at Banaras Hindu University. AD (S) is contesting in 17 seats this time, most of them in Purvanchal. “We will not only win all the seats but will be the deciding factor in these elections,” AD (S) working president Ashish Patel told ET. The party won nine out of 11 seats it contested in 2017.

While AD (S) claims to represent the Kurmis, it hasn’t given enough seats to them. Only six of 17 seats have Kurmi candidates. And 11 of the 17 seats were won by BJP in 2017. Analysts feel BJP politicians who lost their tickets to AD (S) and their supporters may not vote for the ally. The last-minute allotment of seats to AD (S) has seemingly confused some BJP voters at least. A polling officer in a booth in Chail, who wishes to remain anonymous, had a tough time explaining to scores of voters why “kamal ka nishan” was not on their electronic voting machines. The seat was won by BJP in 2017 but is given to its ally AD (S) this time. The BJP has denied tickets to three of its sitting MLAs in Purvanchal and allotted their seats to AD (S).

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In the current assembly, some of these smaller allies only have a single MLA; others have none. “Still bigger parties ally with them for the sake of symbolism. They want to send a message that the social groups these parties claim to represent are with them. They also fear that these parties may otherwise go with the other big party. Besides, in a hung assembly, these parties may come useful,” says political analyst JP Shukla.

Sanjay Nishad, chief of the Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal or the Nishad Party, claims he has the support of the Nishad-Manjhi-fishers community in the Gorakhpur region of East UP: “Sau mein assi hamara hai baaki mein batwara hai (80% voters are with the BJP, the remaining 20% are divided).” Of the 16 seats it is contesting, seven were won by its present ally BJP in 2017.

“Giving away winning seats to small-time parties could be detrimental for the parent party,” says senior Lucknowbased journalist Akhilesh Vajpayee. Also, in the 16 seats, Sanjay has named only three Nishad candidates, giving away five seats each to Brahmins and Thakurs. Bihar’s Mukesh Sahni of the Vikasheel Insan Party, who is trying his luck in UP, is from the Nishad community and has accused Sanjay Nishad of “selling tickets to upper-caste candidates”. The BJP, which is on the backfoot after the exodus of key OBC leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya, may have given in to the demands of smaller parties for more seats. “The BJP hopes to get the votes of specific communities with such tie-ups. But then their allies have sidelined candidates from the sections they claim to represent,” says another professor of political science, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Krishna Patel’s AD (K) has not won a single assembly seat — and only March 10 will reveal if the SP has benefitted from this alliance or not. A disgruntled local SP leader, who had been preparing for the 2022 polls but lost the ticket to AD (K), protested openly after Krishna’s daughter Pallavi was fielded from Sirathu, where she is largely considered an outsider. There are also rebel candidates of bigger parties who have refused to let go of their preferred seats where allies are contesting.

“These caste-based parties benefit more from the bigger allies than the other way round. By winning just two seats in 2014, Anupriya has become a Union minister; her husband is an MLC and the party has now got more seats to contest than in 2017,” says the professor quoted above.

Most of these smaller, community-based parties have snagged a better deal by getting more tickets than in 2017. AD (S) is contesting in 17 seats, up from 11; and SBSP in 18 seats, up from 8. Similarly, the Nishad Party, which won a single seat in 2017 when it fought in 72 seats in alliance with smaller parties, is contesting in 16 seats in alliance with a big player like BJP. Janwadi Party (Socialist) that didn’t contest in a single seat in 2017 has now got three seats.

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While these smaller players may make a winning difference in a handful of constituencies in Purvanchal, they — by switching sides every now and then and giving tickets to candidates from other communities — have also shown that more than ideological commitments they stand for the practical politics of give-and-take. They may have gained political leverage, but their electoral performance and their benefits to the bigger parties in the alliance have yet to be tested.



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