Lok Sabha elections 2019: Smaller parties flaunt crucial caste vote bank to bargain hard for relevance in UP

As the schedule for the seven-phases-long 2019 Lok Sabha elections came out in March, the caste engines which run India's polity are racing full throttle. The bigger national and regional political parties are busy roping in smaller parties and outfits to add up the caste numbers in their traditional support base. This has once again lit the offices smaller local parties, which command a significant influence over the respective caste groups they represent, across the country; discussions are being held, offerings are being negotiated; and seat sharing matrix are being worked out as the small players are propelled once again into focus.

There are 3,000 castes in India, apart from various sub-castes and tribal population, which have their political representation in form of smaller parties; their strength proportional to the social awareness of each caste group. For instance, Uttar Pradesh alone has a caste spread of Yadavs, Jats, Kushwahas, Kurmi, Jatav Dalits, Non-Jatav Dalits, Brahmins, Thakurs, Vaishya, Tyagi and Bhumihar, apart from Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Muslims, Christians and Tribals.

 Lok Sabha elections 2019: Smaller parties flaunt crucial caste vote bank to bargain hard for relevance in UP

File image of SBSP chief Om Prakash Rajbhar. ANI

In this electorally crucial state which holds 80 of the total 542 Lok Sabha seats in fray, political arithmetic is at its prime. On 19 March, rebel Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Shivpal Singh Yadav who has floated his own outfit called Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia), announced a coalition with two smaller parties – Peace Party and Apna Dal (Krishna Patel faction) . A few weeks earlier, the Indian National Congress announced an alliance with a smaller party, Mahan Dal. The Bharatiya Janata Party has also sealed its pact with the Apna Dal faction led by Anupriya Patel, while it is still trying to arrive at a mutually acceptable deal with the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party. Meanwhile, there are rumours that the saffron party has managed to break away the Nishad Party also from the Opposition grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh, as the smaller party's leaders announced the split and were later seen outside chief minister Yogi Adityanath's residence.

The two large regional parties in the state — Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — have already entered a coalition that now includes the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), posing a formidable challenge to the BJP which seeks to maintain Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah’s command at the Centre for another term.

Shivpal’s gambit

Much of the support enjoyed by the erstwhile Samajwadi Party at the grassroots across Uttar Pradesh is believed to be drawn via Shivpal’s influence, a powerful leader among his people. Estranged from nephew Akhilesh, he continues to have the potential to attract two relatively influential small parties in the state. "Our party has arrangements in place with more than four dozen small parties all over the state," says Shahid Siddiqui, a PSP(L) leader who was a well-known figure during his association with the Samajwadi Party. "We have already announced our candidates for 34 seats, while 11 seats have been left for Peace Party and two for the Apna Dal (Krishna Patel)," he adds.

The party has also fielded candidates in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar and Delhi. “Our party has a wide support base not only in UP but in other states as well,” says Siddiqui. PSPL was founded on 29 August last year.

Nishad factor

The NISHAD party, founded in 2016, stands for Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal, loosely meaning a party of the weak, exploited and the ordinary people. It professes to work for the improvement of Nishad, Kewat, Bind and other marginalised communities traditionally working as boatmen, fishermen, marginal farmers etc. Such social and caste groups are estimated to be about 15 percent of the population in the eastern UP region.

Party founder Sanjay Nishad, who was formerly with the BSP, floated the outfit when his son Pravin defeated BJP candidate Upendra Shukla in by-election to Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat. The seat was a strong BJP bastion and was held by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath since 1998. Pravin fought this election on a Samajwadi Party ticket. However, the NISHAD party contested the 2017 UP Assembly elections in coalition with Peace Party, winning Gyanpur seat near Varanasi.

Pravin Nishad, an engineer by education, is clear about the strength of his party: “United we stand, divided we fall. The world has seen the power of our party in the 2018 byelections. Our party was formed in 2016 and we fought on 62 Vidhan Sabha seats in the 2017 Assembly elections, winning only one seat. I joined the SP, BSP alliance in 2017 and in 2018, I became a Member of Parliament from a seat that is the stronghold of Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath."

However, much has changed since Pravin took that stand.

Barely three days after joining the SP-BSP-RLD 'Mahagathbandhan' in Uttar Pradesh, the Nishad Party Friday sprang a surprise by parting ways with the fledgling anti-BJP alliance and meeting Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. There was no immediate word from either side as to what transpired at the meeting between the Nishad Party leaders including its President Sanjay Nishad with Adityanath in Lucknow.  A party functionary confirmed this news to PTI but when asked whether Pravin will also quit Samajwadi Party, he said, "I don't know about it."

The Samajwadi Party, in the meantime, has fielded its own candidate from the Gorakhpur seat.

Peace Party shows promise

The Peace Party had made a splash in the 2012 Assembly election when it won four seats, including Khalilabad and Domariyaganj in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Headed by Ayub, a doctor and social worker known for his charity work in Gorakhpur and adjoining districts, the party at that time showed signs of emerging as a favourite among the Muslim community, especially the backward classes, also known as Pasmanda Muslims. In fact, in the 2012 election the party was considered by many politicians and observers as a probable kingmaker. This time around, the party has allied with Shivpal's newly floated alliance.

Apna Dal factions

The case of Apna Dal is quite curious as far its support to other parties is concerned. The party was founded by Sone Lal Patel, a senior Kurmi leader of eastern Uttar Pradesh, in 1995. At one time, he had been closely associated with Kanshi Ram and was one of the founders of BSP. However, he later quit the party to form Apna Dal. The party opted to become an ally of the NDA in 2014 and its leader Anupriya Patel is a minister in the Modi government at the Centre. The party split soon thereafter and her mother heads the other faction. Now, the Apna Dal (Krishna Patel) has on one hand finalised an alliance with the Congress, and on the other, it is part of a coalition comprising Shivpal's PSP (L) and Peace Party.

Mahan Dal

Another small party having allied with the Congress is Mahan Dal. It is headed by Keshav Dev Maurya and in 2014 Lok Sabha election also it had aligned with the UPA. It had unsuccessfully contested three Lok Sabha seats, Badayun, Nagina and Etah, at that time. On 13 February, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra announced her party’s alliance with Mahan Dal, which claims to enjoy some support among the OBC communities of Maurya, Kushwaha, Saini and Shakya. On different occasions in the past few years, the SP, BSP and the BJP have approached this party for some sort of electoral understanding without any success. However, this time the Mahan Dal candidates will contest on the Congress symbol.

The Congress has also sealed an alliance with Jan Adhikar Manch of Babu Singh Kushwaha, a former minister in the BSP government, who was expelled from the party on corruption charges, and had a short-lived stint in the BJP too, before being expelled from there as well.

SBSP undecided

The Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) is an ally of the NDA and is headed by Om Prakash Rajbhar, a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government in UP. The party claims support among the Rajbhar community in eastern Uttar Pradesh. The SBSP was formed in 2002 with an aim to work for the betterment of backwards and Dalits. The party formed an alliance with the BJP in 2016 and contested on eight Vidhan Sabha constituencies in the 2017 Assembly elections, winning four of those.

Rajbhar though has been vocal in his criticism of the BJP and the Yogi government in particular, demanding more proactive measures for welfare of the OBCs, causing serious embarrassment to the party.

On its part, the BJP has been undecided on settling the number of seats to be left for the SBSP, as a result of which the latter has been restive, giving indications that it might dissociate with the BJP in near future.

SBSP spokesperson Piyush Mishra says that the party “could contest on all the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh and our people are very much ready to give a tough fight to all the political parties, but we know where we are strong and that is why we have demanded only five seats from the BJP. Our doors are open and we are waiting to see the final decision of BJP on seat sharing.”

Raja Bhaiya goes alone

The Jan Satta Party (Loktantrik), formed by independent MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh (alias Raja Bhaiyya) has decided to contest eight seats on its own, while Singh himself is not contesting. The party has announced candidates from Pratapgarh – Singh’s stronghold - and Kaushambi, and the names of six other candidates and their seats are likely to be announced shortly.

Singh had been an independent MLA from Kunda in Pratapgarh for six terms since 1993. He was a minister in SP government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, and later led by Akhilesh Yadav in the past, but had not joined the SP at any time. He had also been a party of the BJP governments headed by Kalyan Singh, Ram Prakash Gupta and Rajnath Singh.

Authors are Lucknow-based freelance journalists and members of 101Reporters.com

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Updated Date: Mar 30, 2019 15:07:27 IST