Lucknow: As the ruling BJP gears up for the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh next year, smaller political parties from the state, which allied with the national party either in earlier assembly or Lok Sabha polls but claimed to have got a raw deal, are demanding more importance in the government — both at the Centre and in the state.
The chiefs of two such parties — Apna Dal’s Anupriya Patel and Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal (NISHAD) party’s Dr Sanjay Nishad — met Home Minister and former BJP president Amit Shah in Delhi Thursday. The two leaders are believed to have put forth their demands during the meeting, and reminded Shah of promises the BJP reportedly made to the parties earlier — that they will be made a part of the government.
The Apna Dal supported the BJP in both the 2017 assembly elections and the 2019 general elections, and the NISHAD party became a BJP ally in 2019.
While Nishad was vocal about the demands made by the party, Apna Dal member of legislative council (MLC) Ashish Patel termed the visit a “courtesy call”. Sources in the party, however, told ThePrint that it was looking for more important positions for senior Apna Dal leaders, including for chief Anupriya Patel.
Meanwhile, another regional party, the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), led by Om Prakash Rajbhar, which had allied with the BJP in 2017 but parted ways in 2019, has made it clear that it is also looking for other alliances for 2022. Rajbhar was a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government but resigned after criticising the BJP for allegedly trying to weaken his party.
For the BJP, the support of these smaller parties is important because they enjoy the backing of influential caste groups in east UP.
‘Have come from Lucknow… will take something back’
Nishad touched upon the BJP’s dismal performance in the April panchayat elections, and insisted that the national party needed to give importance to regional parties if it wanted to win the 2022 elections.
Speaking to ThePrint, Nishad said they were “promised an important role in the government (in 2019)”.
“Neither have they included us in the government at the Centre, nor in the state. They should have at least included our representative in the state government,” he added. ”Maine to Amit Shah ji se seedhe bol diya, Lucknow se Delhi aaya hu kuch lekar hee jaunga (I was upfront with Amit Shah. I told him that if I have come to Delhi from Lucknow, I will take something back with me).”
The NISHAD party chief said a cabinet post was being discussed for a party member.
A source in the party added that it was ”trying to get an MLC berth and a cabinet post for Sanjay Nishad in the Yogi government”. “His son Pravin Nishad is already an MP from the Sant Kabir Nagar seat,” the source said.
According to Sanjay Nishad, the BJP’s failure to deliver on its 2017 promise could cost the party in the upcoming polls.
“Dosti ka matlab hai ki apne mitra ki sahi samay per aankhen kholna bhi hota hai (Friendship also means that you have to make your friend aware of realities when needed). So, that’s what I am doing,” he said.
Touching upon the BJP’s poor performance in the April panchayat polls in the state, Nishad, said, “I feel if power is not given to our community (those from the Nishad caste, one among the Other Backward Classes or OBCs), then losses like those in the panchayat polls may recur. The community had so far been voting for either the Samajwadi Party (SP) or the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). They chose the BJP in 2019 because they believed the promises made by them to the NISHAD party. The community may reconsider its support if those promises are not fulfilled. They had chosen the BJP because of us.”
Meanwhile, sources in the Apna Dal told ThePrint that it is also eyeing a bigger role in the government.
”We want a ministerial position either at the Centre or in the state. We were promised such a position,” said a source. Another party functionary added that the party was “expecting cabinet berths for either Anupriya ji (a former Union minister) at the Centre or Ashish (Patel) ji in the state”.
MLC Ashish Patel, however, denied any such demands had been made. ”We will definitely contest the next UP election with the BJP and whatever role we are given, we are OK with it,” he said.
The SBSP has made it clear that it is keeping its options open for the 2022 polls.
Party chief Om Prakash Rajbhar has already termed the BJP a “sinking boat”, and said “whoever wants to ride on it, is welcome to do so, but I will not ride on it”.
SBSP General Secretary Arun Rajbhar told ThePrint, ”We have kept our options open for the 2022 polls. As of now, we are in Bhagidari Sankalp Morcha with Owaisi’s AIMIM and several other smaller parties, but we are open to an alliance with the SP and the BSP. Our party has already approached them, but have not received a positive response yet. They should understand the need of the hour. If they want to defeat BJP, they should include us.”
He, however, added that “if they don’t, then we have not closed our option of going with the BJP”. “Aisa karna humari majboori ho jaegi (It will become a compulsion for us),” he added.
Eye on East UP
Although all three parties are relatively small and enjoy only localised support, they wield considerable influence in east UP or Poorvanchal.
According to Arun Rajbhar, “approximately 18 per cent of the Rajbhar (an OBC caste) population in the state is concentrated in about a dozen districts of east UP, including Ghazipur, Ballia and Varanasi. Their votes can influence the outcome in more than 70 assembly seats here”.
Similarly, the Nishads comprise more than 14 per cent of the population in districts like Mau, Azamgarh ,Varanasi, and Prayagraj. There are densely populated villages on the banks of the Ganga and Yamuna in UP, inhabited by the Nishads and their vote can impact the result of the polls in the state.
The Apna Dal enjoys the support of the Kurmi caste (also OBC), which accounts for nine per cent of UP’s total population. In more than a dozen seats of Mirzapur, Varanasi, Chandauli and Prayagraj, they comprise more than 18 per cent of the population.
According to Dr Shilpa Sikha Singh, a UP-based political analyst and assistant professor at Lucknow’s Giri Institute of Development Studies, “These smaller parties have significant vote banks in East UP. The BJP definitely doesn’t want to lose them, but one can’t definitely say that the BJP will agree to all their demands. I am saying this because the BJP is also trying to prepare alternatives — for example, when O.P. Rajbhar resigned from the government, they brought in their own member who is from the same caste, Anil Rajbhar. So, they also understand this strategy of ‘pressure politics’.”
The political analyst said, however, that the BJP’s efforts to find alternatives to these parties have not been very successful as yet.
“As of now, after an unsatisfactory performance in the panchayat polls, they may fulfill the demands of Apna Dal and NISHAD party. These parties are finding an opportunity after ‘differences’ cropped up between the state and central leadership of the party,” she said, mainly because of the Adityanath government’s handling of the Covid pandemic.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)