JD(U)’s national ambition behind demand for caste census and Pegasus probe, say party leaders
The ruling Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) in Bihar, which has put its alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in a spot by seeking a probe into the Pegasus case and teaming up with rival Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to demand a caste census, aims to make its presence felt in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Manipur elections, say party leaders.
The JD(U) is a state party in Bihar and Arunachal Pradesh, and making a mark in UP and Manipur would enable it to seek national status, thereby having some impact on national politics. JD(U) insiders believe that the demand for caste census has catapulted Nitish Kumar to the status of a national leader as several Opposition parties are now demanding the same along with the general census in 2022. The Centre is yet to agree to it.
The party is banking on RCP Singh, a union minister from JD(U), to work on a deal with the BJP and get a reasonable number of seats to contest for in the 2022 UP assembly elections. Or, party leaders said, JD(U) would contest the polls alone, which could impact the BJP’s upper caste vote-bank.
“Singh has been given the task to negotiate with BJP leaders because of his closeness with their leadership. As former national president of JD(U),he is trying to revive the party in UP,” said a senior JD(U) functionary, requesting anonymity.
Other party leaders in the know of things said JD(U) leaders have had preliminary talks with BJP national president JP Nadda, union home minister Amit Shah and even UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath in this regard.
“We are an old ally of the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and would definitely like to contest in alliance with the BJP in UP,” said JD(U) national principal general secretary KC Tyagi. He, however, denied that Singh had been pushed into negotiating with the BJP by the party. “He is in touch with UP party leaders and BJP leaders because CM Nitish Kumar wants an early settlement on the seat-sharing arrangement rather than leaving it for the last moment,” he added.
Tyagi said that the JD(U), which is vying for a national status, has decided to hold its next national council meeting in Uttar Pradesh, followed by Manipur, the two states where it wants to field candidates.
However, odds are against the JD(U) in UP if one goes by past election results. In 2007, the JD(U) contested in 16 seats, but won only one, and forfeited its deposit in 12. It could only manage 0.42% of the vote share then. In 2012, it contested on 219 seats, forfeited its deposit in all of them, and managed just 0.36% of votes. It did not contest the 2017 elections in UP.
Other Bihar-based parties, the RJD and the Lok Janshakti Party, also tried their luck in previous UP elections and met a similar fate.
“The scenario has changed. UP has 12% Kurmi (an agriculture community) voters and backward communities are rallying behind Nitish Kumar, ever since the demand for caste census grew. We want a respectable number of seats to contest on,” said Tyagi.
However, in UP, the BJP is unlikely to leave much space for smaller parties, even as the Opposition is trying to cobble together a united front. This could also lead to rumblings within the NDA.
A senior BJP leader, who requested anonymity, said if the party gives JD(U) close to the number of seats the contested in 2007, they should be happy with it.
According to political experts, however, the JD(U) is more interested in marking its national presence rather than winning seats. “The label of a national party depends on the number of seats and vote share that a party gets. The quest to become a national party is also a part of JD(U)’s messaging to NDA allies that the party means business even with less numbers. At the same time, it wants to signal to the Opposition that Nitish Kumar is not only a firm-footed chief minister but also a dominant national player,” said former principal of Patna College Nawal Kishore Choudhary.
In September, Nitish Kumar is likely to participate in the birth anniversary functions of Chaudhary Devi Lal, which leaders from several Opposition parties are likely to attend. Kumar, in August, met former Haryana chief minister and INLD president Om Prakash Chautala in Gurugram and called it a courtesy meet. Chautala had earlier spoken about his idea of exploring a third-front option on the birth anniversary of his father Chaudhary Devi Lal on September 25.