With an eye on the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, many smaller political parties in Uttar Pradesh have started recalibrating their options after being sidelined by the larger alliance partners namely, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), which were giving these sub-regional outfits weightage during the Assembly elections.
The alliance formations which were looking solid months back during the Vidhan Sabha elections have started crumbling on the Opposition side, while some signs of discomfort are visible over many issues even in the BJP-led camp. Observers are anxious about the future strategy of these smaller actors in the electoral landscape of Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha.
In the Opposition camp, the SP fought the Vidhan Sabha elections eight months ago in alliance with the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) led by O.P. Rajbhar, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the Apna Dal (Kamerawadi) led by Krishna Patel, the Mahan Dal, the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohiya) led by Shivpal Singh Yadav, the Janvadi Party (Socialist), and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Now, three of those parties — namely the SBSP, the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohiya) and the Mahan Dal — have left the Mahagathbandhan within months of its formation, and voted for the saffron party’s nominee in the presidential election. The leaders of these parties, namely Mr. Rajbhar, Mr. Yadav and Mr. Maurya, have categorically said that they want to play a crucial role in the 2024 parliamentary polls and will join any alliance keeping in view the political environment of the State.
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“The BJP cannot form the Central Government on its own, they also need alliance partners. I will take my decision as per the situation and go with a powerful alliance, it could be the BJP or Opposition alliance. If Janata Dal (United) led by Nitish Kumar, RJD led by Lalu Prasad Yadav, and the SP form an alliance joined by Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), it will be a bigger alliance than the one formed by the BJP, I can join that also,” Mr. Rajbhar told The Hindu. His SBSP won six out of the 19 seats it contested in the 2022 Assembly polls.
Similarly, after getting elected on the SP’s symbol from the Jaswantnagar Assembly constituency, Mr. Yadav voted for the BJP in the presidential polls. Last month, he argued that he would be in the winning camp in 2024, and added that his decision on any alliance will be taken six months before the polls. As political circles in Lucknow are abuzz with speculation that he has made a tactical retreat in the Mainpuri bypoll and might join hands with BJP prior to the 2024 polls, snagging a ticket from Mainpuri or an adjoining seat, Mr. Yadav did not rule out joining the saffron fold. He has, however, stated that his rejoining the SP is not possible.
On the other side, the ruling BJP, which fought the Assembly polls with the Apna Dal (Sonelal) led by Anupriya Patel and the Nishad Party led by Sanjay Nishad, is said to be sidelining its smaller partners after forming the government. In a recent statement, Ms. Patel demanded that the Yogi Government give justice to backward classes in the teachers’ recruitment process, vowing to raise her voice on the caste-based census which makes the BJP uncomfortable. The Apna Dal (Sonelal), the third largest party in the U.P. Assembly, also pitched for a separate Ministry for the welfare of Other Backward Classes (OBC) under the Central Government.
It is interesting to note that Ms. Patel, who won the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Mirzapur, was twice included in the Narendra Modi-led government just months before the Assembly polls after she built pressure on the BJP. The SP has offered the Apna Dal (Sonelal) a chance to join the Opposition alliance during the 2022 Assembly polls and asked it to play a part in forging backward class unity.
“Generally sub-regional parties with a limited caste base in a few districts know their limitations and try to remain with the dominant political force. In the case of U.P., as the BJP is in power both in the Centre and the State, it will be the first choice for such parties until they get a relatively lucrative offer from the other camp,” said Shashi Kant Pandey of the Department of Political Science in the Central University of Lucknow.
In U.P., the importance of sub-regional and regional parties whose support base is limited to few districts and among their own caste groups is due to the close contest between the larger parties, as was seen in the recent Assembly elections. In the 2022 Vidhan Sabha polls, the margin of victory was less than 5,000 votes in about 50 seats.
It also helps prime political parties in building a narrative in a State with a population of more than 20 crore. “These smaller outfits bring some support in their seats of influence, which acts as a catalyst for larger parties like the BJP and the SP to win close seats and helpful in building narrative,” added Mr. Pandey.
With the Lok Sabha polls now 15 months away, it is clear that alliance formation will take a tectonic shift with smaller parties waiting for a better bargaining opportunity.