Busting Rumours In The Gangetic Plains: Will Nitish Kumar Wean Kurmi Voters Away From BJP In UP?
Perception managers and narrative builders should know that kite-flying is a risky pastime in the Gangetic Plains, because it is not just their threads which can get cut, but their credibility too.
Perhaps the most delightful aspect of Indian politics is the creativity with which the wildest of rumours are conceived and circulated.
In the run-up to the March 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, a buzz was floated that an ‘RLD wave’ would sweep the state’s western region.
This was a reference to Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), a fringe political outfit which was once a force in Uttar Pradesh some decades before, when his grandfather, Chaudhary Charan Singh, managed to craft a potent Jat-Muslim vote bloc for a while.
It was amusing to watch supposedly-serious commentators tweet recklessly about an impending ‘RLD wave’, because, in the end, all the RLD got was eight seats out of 403.
The best part is that they managed to secure such a meagre tally only after Jayant Chaudhary was humiliatingly forced to put up candidates from his ally, the Samajwadi Party, on RLD tickets. On its own, the RLD would have been swept away into oblivion.
The latest rumour doing the rounds emanates from further east in the Gangetic Plains.
By it, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U), is all set to damage the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) prospects in eastern Uttar Pradesh in the 2024 general elections by attracting the Kurmi vote to his side.
Obviously, no proof is adduced to substantiate this rumour except the fact that Nitish Kumar is a Kurmi, and that there are Kurmis in Uttar Pradesh.
But in this digital age, it is important that rumours be scrutinised and dispelled, lest they inadvertently turn into self-fulfilling prophesies.
Now, it is true that there is a good concentration of Kurmi votes in eastern UP.
It is also true that Nitish Kumar commands the bulk of the Kurmi vote in Bihar.
But, does this automatically mean that Nitish Kumar will get the UP Kurmi vote in 2024?
The answer is a loud ‘no’ for multiple reasons.
One, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) is essentially a one-man-one-caste-one-state outfit.
It lacks the strength to win 20 assembly seats in Bihar on its own, and does not have a political presence in UP.
Two, therefore, Nitish Kumar would first need to enter into an alliance with the main non-BJP party in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party (SP), before somehow magically mesmerising the Kurmis of the state into voting for his alliance en masse.
Three, if at all such a cross-border alliance were ever sealed between the SP and the JD(U), it would cause a ‘disturbance in the force’.
This is because Nitish Kumar’s new ally in Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Yadav, would view his expansion plans with severe distrust and envious discomfiture.
Right now, the RJD has the JD(U) on a tight leash, but if Nitish spreads his wings beyond Bihar, the paranoia inherent in identity politics would make the RJD worry that he might not need them.
After all, Nitish is famous for betraying partners and mandates without any qualms.
He’s done it before and he could do it again.
Four, the JD(U)’s other partner in Bihar, the Congress, would be in a quandary, since they have chosen to go it alone in UP since 2019 (and gotten wiped out in the process).
If Nitish Kumar ties up with the SP, the Congress would face the embarrassment of contesting against an alliance partner — albeit in another state.
Fifth, and perhaps more pertinently, any attempt by Nitish Kumar to look beyond Bihar makes him a direct threat to the Congress.
Any increase in his stature at the national level is directly proportional to the resurgence of a non-BJP-non-Congress ‘third front’, and inversely proportional to the Congress’s chances of heading the principal opposition grouping at the Centre.
The Congress simply cannot countenance that since it would lead to their complete political ruination.
Six, the SP, which survives on the Muslim-Yadav vote and little else, would be wary of letting Nitish Kumar onto their turf, even as an ally, because the quest for the Kurmi vote by such a coalition would fuel disarray in SP ranks.
As it is, the SP has yet to recover from its shock defeat in the Azamgarh Lok Sabha byelection of June 2022, in which, their prized Yadav vote departed in droves to the BJP.
The last thing they need right now is for a message to go out, that the SP is forced to cast its net wider, using the help of a force from out-of-state, to attract other communities, because their core base has started moving in bulk to the BJP.
Seven, while a rumour about Nitish Kumar going west to attract Kurmi votes may sound wonderful to secular ears, the fact of the matter is that the Kurmi community in UP has never voted for Nitish Kumar. In reality, they aren’t too enamoured with the SP either.
On the contrary, the principal beneficiaries of Kurmi electoral largesse in UP are the BJP and its ally, the Apna Dal of Anupriya Patel.
The BJP has a long tradition of successful Kurmi leaders in the state, including Santosh Kumar Gangwar (who is a regular winner from Bareilly), Swatantra Dev Singh, union minister Pankaj Choudhary, Anurag Singh, and recent Congress import R P N Singh.
Anyone who thinks that these settled dynamics are going to change dramatically, just because an outsider of the same caste came and campaigned in UP for a few days, really needs to get a grip on reality.
And finally, eight, while a coming together of the SP, JD(U) and the RJD (all derivatives of the Lohia-ite wing of the Janata Party) is not improbable, it would do little to improve each other’s electoral chances for one simple reason: these secular parties have been operating in tight, provincial silos for so long that they are simply incapable of effecting cross-state vote transfers any more.
In fact, as Arush Tandon of Swarajya reminded this writer, tongue lodged firmly in cheek, the only time a cross-border transfer happened was when Beni Prasad Varma of the SP, a Kurmi from Uttar Pradesh, introduced R C P Singh, a Bihari Kurmi, to Nitish Kumar (also a Bihari Kurmi, lest we forget).
That didn’t end well, because the fallout in Bihar, of the falling out between Singh and Nitish Kumar, not only led to a rupture between the BJP and the JD(U), but will also result in the shift of Kurmi votes from the JD(U) to the BJP in the next elections.
Therefore, in conclusion, perception managers and narrative builders should know that kite-flying is a risky pastime in the Gangetic Plains, because it is not just their threads which can get cut, but their credibility too.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.