The SP and Congress must rope in Nitish to campaign in east UP | opinion | Hindustan Times
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The SP and Congress must rope in Nitish to campaign in east UP

Time will tell whether the saffron party can kill two birds with one stone: Make the BSP look more attractive to Muslims while moping up a chunk of lesser OBCs. Such bids at social engineering do pay dividends in caste-riven societies. That’s all the more the reason the Akhilesh-Rahul alliance look towards Bihar chief minister

opinion Updated: Feb 26, 2017 20:42 IST
Vinod Sharma
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar addressing party workers in Patna, January 24
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar addressing party workers in Patna, January 24(PTI)

A rally Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed at Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh’s Allahabad district on Monday was fairly large but not large enough for the 22 assembly seats it aimed to address across Allahabad, Kaushambi and Pratapgarh.

The assembly has an eclectic demographic mix that made it significant for the BJP and its opponents. The Kurmi turnout was expectedly overwhelming as Phulpur is a seat contested by Anupriya Patel’s Apna Dal. Rubbing shoulders with them were the Pals (Gadarias), the Nishads and the tribal Kols, not to mention a fair number of Brahmins.

Read: UP ELECTIONS FULL COVERAGE

It was an encouraging social rainbow for the saffron party banking on the support of non-Yadav OBCs. “The crowds have come to see Narendra Modi who’s also an OBC,” said ABVP activist Sonu Dubey. He had travelled from Jaunpur to hear the PM. Another young boy who’s yet to attain voting age, Virendra Gautam claimed his parents and other Kurmi clansmen were rooting for the BJP.

The Kurmis are in good numbers in Kaushambi’s three and Allahabad’s 12 assembly segments. They’re present as well in Pratapgarh’s forward caste-dominated seven constituencies where the coming together of the SP and Congress has made local Rajput chieftain Raja Bhaiya and Brahmin leader Pramod Tiwari bury the hatchet --and work in consonance.

The Kurmi factor that’s significant in the fourth phase of elections would magnify as poll minstrels move eastward to areas bordering Bihar. That makes one wonder as to why the SP-led front hasn’t yet reached out to Nitish Kumar?

Read: The battle for India: What lies ahead for Cong, BJP in 2019 elections

“Maybe because Mulayam Singh won’t take that kindly,” speculated an Allahabad-based Congressman. He agreed the Bihar chief minister’s active support could help the alliance gain better traction with the Kurmis and a section of the extremely backward classes.

The Yadavs constitute 9% of the UP electorate. Among the non-Yadav OBCs, the Kurmis are numerically stronger at 3.4% followed by Lodha (2.2), Mallah, Gadaria and Teli (2 % each), Kumhar (1.6), Kahar (1.5), Kachi (1.4) and Nai (1.3).

In the scramble for the vote of the extremely backward OBCs, the BJP somewhat expediently rates the BSP as its main rival. Mayawati’s party did not win a single seat in UP in the 2014 polls. But despite being on the losing side, it’s candidates logged sizeable vote-share, at some places as high as over two lakh.

“In addition to Dalits, it is the ati-pichada base Mayawati’s dangling to win over the Muslims,” said an RSS worker active in eastern UP. As the BSP’s gains will be from the SP’s account, it suits the BJP to project Mayawati as its prime rival.

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That explains BJP president Amit Shah’s change of stance to showcase BSP as his party’s main challenger; a position that’s a complete U-Turn from his initial claim of the fight being with the SP.

Those were early days when Akhilesh Yadav hadn’t yet sewed up an alliance with Rahul Gandhi.

Time will tell whether the saffron party can kill two birds with one stone: Make the BSP look more attractive to Muslims while moping up a chunk of lesser OBCs. It was with the objective of luring non-Yadav Backwards that it retained its alliance with the factionalised Apna Dal and elevated Phulpur MP Keshav Prasad Maurya, who’s from the horticulturist’s class, as president of its state unit.

Such bids at social engineering do pay dividends in caste riven societies. That’s all the more the reason the Akhilesh-Rahul alliance look eastwards to Nitish, who for long has been the patron of ati-pichadas in UP’s eastern neighbourhood.

vinodsharma@hindustantimes.com