BJP's OBC allies in UP seek pound of flesh before 2024 Lok Sabha polls
The three allies of the BJP in UP — Apna Dal, the Nishad Party, and the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party — represent the OBC communities
With the Lok Sabha elections round the corner and the BJP focusing on OBC votes to return to power, NDA allies in Uttar Pradesh are preparing to seek their proverbial pound of flesh.
The three allies of the BJP in UP represent the OBC (Other Backward Classes) communities. The Apna Dal is a Kurmi-centric party, the Nishad Party has a strong base among the Nishad caste groups, and the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) banks on the Rajbhar community.
Apna Dal in 2019 had won both the Lok Sabha seats that it contested — Mirzapur and Robertsganj. Union minister Anupriya Patel won from Mirzapur while Pakodi Lal Kol won from Robertsganj. In 2014, Apna Dal had contested only two seats, Mirzapur and Pratapgarh, and had won both. The party has thus maintained its 100 per cent success rate.
According to sources, this time, Apna Dal is aiming to get more seats in the Lok Sabha polls. The party has shortlisted five seats that it wants to contest on its own symbol. These are Mirzapur, Jaunpur, Kaushambhi, Prayagraj, Pratapgarh, and Robertsganj.
The party has already raised the demand for caste census and underlined a larger share for OBC castes. A senior Apna Dal leader said, “Our demand for more seats is not unfair. We have shown a 100 per cent success rate in two consecutive Lok Sabha elections and our leaders have never made any demand from the BJP. We are also seeking to raise our political status in the coming years and there is nothing wrong with it.”
Earlier this year, Apna Dal was elevated from a registered political outfit to a state party by the Election Commission. The party also increased its tally from nine MLAs in 2017 to 13 in the 2022 UP elections.
Nishad Party chief Sanjay Nishad, who is also a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government, has already staked a claim for 27 Lok Sabha seats which have a sizeable population of the fishermen community — a most backward class.
The party won only one seat in the 2017 assembly elections — Vijay Mishra won from Gyanpur in Bhadohi — increased its tally to six in the 2022 Assembly elections when it allied with the BJP.
At the same time, BJP routed Sanjay Nishad to the UP legislative council and made him a cabinet minister in the Yogi government. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Sanjay’s son Praveen Nishad won from Sant Kabir Nagar on a BJP ticket.
Nishad Party now wants to contest the Lok Sabha polls on its own symbol and "create our own political identity". Sanjay Nishad took out a yatra in UP to drum up support among the riverine community for his long-standing demand for their inclusion in the Scheduled Caste category.
Nishads, Majhwars, Kewats and Mallahs — all part of the riverine community of fishermen and boatmen — are currently included in the OBC category. While the demand is not new, the fact that the yatra is being undertaken so close to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, which Nishad Party will contest in alliance with the BJP, indicates some fresh political posturing.
Moreover, the Nishad Party chief has been critical of some Nishad leaders in the BJP as well as an NDA ally from Bihar, who are also flagging the same demand.
Slogans like ‘Yogi ji machhua arakshan waada pura karo (Yogi ji fulfil the promise for riverine community’s reservation)’, reverberated throughout the yatra. Nishads are a crucial riverine vote bank, wooed by all parties, especially in eastern UP. In alliance with the BJP, 11 Nishad Party candidates won the 2022 assembly polls, five of them on the BJP’s symbol.
Meanwhile, SBSP president Om Prakash Rajbhar, who claims to be a kingmaker in UP politics, is also eyeing a larger share of seats in 2024. Playing a crucial role in over 20 assembly constituencies of eastern UP, the Rajbhar factor helped the Samajwadi Party-SBSP alliance do well in the region, particularly in Ghazipur, Ballia and Mau districts of Purvanchal.
The Samajwadi Party had tied up with the SBSP before the polls, given the Rajbhar community has a sizeable presence in many of these constituencies. The SBSP’s tally of assembly seats increased to six in 2022 from four in 2017 when it was a BJP ally.
This time, the SBSP partnered with the SP and won Zahoorabad and Jakhania in Ghazipur, Belthara Road in Ballia, Mau Sadar in Mau, Zafrabad in Jaunpur and Mahadeva in Basti. “Our strength has increased with time and we are a force to reckon with now,” said Rajbhar.
However, all his hopes are pinned on being inducted into the Yogi cabinet, and he is also eyeing a seat for his son Arun Rajbhar. “Wait for Dusshera,” is what he has been telling media persons.
Political analysts feel that in the prevailing scenario, Rajbhar could also prove to be a trouble maker if the BJP does not accept his demand for more seats in the general elections.