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A Stitch in Time... - Arun Kumar - The Sunday Indian
 
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Friday, October 20, 2017
 
 

JANTA PARIVAR

A Stitch in Time...

 

Emboldened by his successful return in Bihar, Nitish Kumar is all set to cobble up an alliance of the like-minded parties in Uttar Pradesh
ARUN KUMAR | Issue Dated: May 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : BJP | INC | BSP | Samajwadi Party | Chief Minister Nitish Kumar | Jayant Chaudhary |
 

In order to give an alternative of Bharatiya Janata Party, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party to the voters of Uttar Pradesh, the Bihar Chief Minister is all set to cobble up an alliance of like-minded parties. This alliance will be based on the same principles on which the erstwhile Third Front was once conceived.

To start with, it is extremely plausible, according to the sources inside the party, that Nitish Kumar’s Janta Dal (United) and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal might decide to merge. After all, they come from the same parent organisation, which was called Janta Dal then. But that is not all. It is also expected that Dr. Ayub’s Peace Party, which has had some pockets of influence in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, as well as Dr. Sone Lala Patel’s Apna Dal, another marginal, but influential player nonetheless, may join the alliance. Other smaller parties limited to one or two assembly constituencies may also join force.

However, the biggest shot in the arm would be if the Congress Party decides to join the bandwagon on the plank of bringing together all the secular parties under one umbrella. Therefore, it is expected that the alliance will finally see the light of day and will distribute seats among the factions depending on their ability to win and their respective pockets of influence. The main basis of such an alliance is to harm the prospects of BJP, but the alliance will also look at ways to make a dent in the vote banks of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. Still, the alliance has some teething problems of its own. Since it is not very clear if Congress will be a part of this alliance for sure as of now, there is no clarity from Congress on the name of the possible Chief Minister. Under the circumstances, it is plausible that Nitish Kumar will declare Jayant Chaudhary as the Chief Ministerial candidate in order to stitch up a Jat-Muslim alliance in the favour of the party. An insider from JD (U) told this correspondent that there has been a marked change in the style of functioning of Nitish Kumar following the triumph in Bihar. Instead of working from the margins, Kumar now wants to lead from the front and is very vocal about it.

He also has his eyes set on 7, Race Course Road in New Delhi. Consequently, he wants to first stop BJP’s victory march right in its track in UP in his bid to realise that dream.

But there exists a problem here. He was not the president of JD (U) and hence he did not previously have the authority to take such decisions. It was primarily because of this that he first anointed himself the party president. To show that his planning is pan-Indian, he first wants Babulal Marandi’s Party in Jharkhand to merge with JD (U), before shifting gear in UP. He has also agreed in principle to merge the Rashtriya Lok Dal with JD (U). Insiders say that both Ajit Singh as well as Nitish Kumar have agreed on the name of Jayant Chaudhary as the possible Chief Ministerial candidate. Congress, of course, has not been taken into confidence on this last decision and hence the party is free to take its own decisions with regards to the CM candidate.

Once, when it was in alliance with BJP, JD (U) used to get a pithy five seats to contest in the UP assembly polls. It used to general win one or two out of those five seats. JD (U)’s primary vote bank is limited to Deoria, Banaras and the districts adjoining Bihar. These are also the same areas where Kurmis, Nitish Kumar’s fellow caste members, are in substantial numbers. Political pundits indicate that Kurmis, who form 3 percent of Uttar Pradesh’s electorate, are with Nitish Kumar, especially following his return to power in Bihar.

Jats, on the other hand, are a force to reckon with in western UP. They are in substantial numbers in as many as nine Parliamentary constituencies, spreading from Meerut and Muzaffarnagar to Agra and Mathura. These are also incidentally more or less the same constituencies where Muslim voters are a key factor as well. Baghpat, which was a bastion of Charan Singh, Ajit Singh’s father and ex-PM, went to BJP in the general elections.

Baghpat’s MP, BJP’s Dr Satyapal Singh, is however not impressed. “There was a time when Charan Singh was a hero in the Jat-land. He was a true leader of Jats and that is why the population was willing to stand behind him, come what may. He was an honest leader and was grounded in his approach. Ajit Singh, on the other hand, has difficulty remaining out of power. This is precisely why he lost his bastion. Now, he is opportunistically looking for some gains in his alliance with JD (U),” he says. He has a point to make there. It is true that both Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary lost their respective seats in western Uttar Pradesh in the last general elections. But they have not given up. They have tried hard since the loss to re-establish themselves in the region. The government’s handling of the jat reservation movement in Haryana is a talk of the town in western Uttar Pradesh as well. Ajit Singh is finding some traction in his bid to project BJP as an anti-Jat party. He is also cashing in on the rural misery that has gripped the country. Although the Central government is trying to announce a slew of packages for the farmers, it is unclear whether there would be any positive effect because of these. Ajit Singh has seen this as an opening for himself and his party and will try to use it to his benefit. He also wants to raise other issues related to the farmers through this new umbrella outfit. One of them, and probably the most important one, is to raise the Minimum Support Price of the products. He is accusing both the Centre and the state government of mishandling the drought situation.

At the same time, Nitish Kumar has lent a hand of friendship towards Dr. Ayub of the Peace Party. The Peace Party won quite a few assembly seats last time. It is not for nothing that Dr Ayub is telling anyone who is willing to lend his ears that he is in the contention for the post of Chief Minister. But that can only be realised if he comes within the umbrella organisation. He wants to win 75 seats this time, but this appears to be a very long shot, to say the least. However, in total, apart from Congress, none of the parties in the alliance are dependable. And that’s a matter of concern for Nitish, who has held several rounds of talks with Congress and it appears that they might agree on a common agenda to contest together. There is a common enemy in BJP, which all the parties are willing to stop in its tracks. Prashant Kishore is a go-between guy for Congress and JD (U) and it is expected that he’ll succeed in an alliance. Congress wants to play the elder partner in the alliance but it wants the alliance to come up first.
 
A dent of some sorts has already been made in BJP. Apna Dal had won two seats in its alliance with the BJP during the last general elections. But following the death of Sonelal Patel, his wife Krishna has taken over the command. She has kicked out from the party her own daughter Anupriya Patel, who is also the MP from Mirzapur. While Anupriya is with BJP, Krishna is all set to go with JD (U). This will consolidate Patel and Kurmi votes. In total, Nitish Kumar is trying to bring in small pebbles to cobble up a mountain. How impregnable will that mountain be, is a question of which party will be the weakest link...

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017