Uttar Pradesh

If Apna Dal Becomes Redundant, Can BJP Rely On JD(U) For Kurmi Vote Bank In Uttar Pradesh?

Nishtha Anushree

Jul 11, 2024, 04:10 PM | Updated 04:17 PM IST

Can Nitish Kumar (L) replace Anupriya Patel (R) as BJP's Kurmi ally in Uttar Pradesh?
Can Nitish Kumar (L) replace Anupriya Patel (R) as BJP's Kurmi ally in Uttar Pradesh?
  • Understanding a recent proposal by the JD(U) for the BJP; not for Bihar but for Uttar Pradesh.
  • The recently concluded Lok Sabha elections clearly show an attrition of Kurmi voters from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) towards the Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh (UP).

    Kurmi caste comes under Other Backward Classes (OBC) and its community members predominantly live in eastern and central UP and Bihar.

    This time, UP elected 11 Kurmi leaders to the Lok Sabha. Seven of them are from the SP, while only three are from the BJP and one from Apna Dal (Soneylal) [AD(S)], a BJP ally under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

    Akhilesh Yadav had given tickets to 10 Kurmi leaders and only three of them lost. But there too, the SP's Kurmi candidates reduced the margin of victories for non-Kurmi BJP candidates.

    Even, the margin of victory of the winning Kurmi NDA candidates like Chhatrapal Gangwar in Bareilly, Pankaj Chaudhary in Maharajganj, Praveen Patel in Phulpur and Anupriya Patel in Mirzapur was drastically reduced.

    While the SP won by strategically fielding Kurmi candidates against BJP's Brahmin candidates in Ambedkar Nagar, Kheri and Shravasti, it also won in a direct Kurmi versus Kurmi contest in Banda.

    In other Kurmi-dominated seats with none of the main candidates hailing from the community, like Barabanki, Kaushambi, Machhlishahr, Prayagraj and Robertsganj, the INDI Alliance (of SP and Congress) candidates won.

    At such point, comes an offer from the BJP's Bihar ally Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] that it wants to 'strengthen the NDA amid new socio-political conditions' in UP with its Kurmi voter base.

    While undoubtedly, Kurmis form a major chunk of JD(U)'s vote bank in Bihar, the same can't be said for UP. Moreover, the BJP already has a Kurmi-centric ally, AD(S) in UP.

    However, Anupriya Patel-led party could not consolidate Kurmi votes even for itself, let alone for the NDA in this election. It contested only two seats, while the AD(S) won in Mirzapur, it lost heavily in Robertsganj.

    Even in Mirzapur, Patel's margin of victory came down by almost 2 lakh votes. In the nearby seats of Varanasi and Phulpur, the BJP's margin of victory was reduced while the party lost in seats like Chandauli, Machhlishahr and Jaunpur.

    Apart from the electoral losses, the chemistry between Patel and the BJP seems to be lost. While Patel is supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre, she does appear to hold some grudges with the state unit of the party.

    Last month, she wrote an open letter to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath alleging that there was a bias against candidates of OBC, SC and ST communities in state government job recruitment.

    She even skipped the loss review meeting of the Mirzapur division led by CM Adityanath. In another review meeting of the Lucknow division, there was an argument between CM and AD(S) MLA Rashmi Arya.

    In the 2027 Assembly elections, the BJP will be led by Yogi Adityanath. In such a scenario, AD(S) distancing itself from the UP CM will not be accepted by the BJP.

    The BJP has three options left now -- Mend ties with AD(S) if it shows signs of gaining back its vote bank or encourage JD(U) to emerge as a formidable party in UP for Kurmis or promote its own Kurmi leadership.

    The BJP has a long tradition of successful Kurmi leaders in the state. While eight-time Bareilly MP Santosh Kumar Gangwar has now retired from active politics due to his age, the party has other formidable leaders.

    UP Jal Shakti Minister Swatantra Dev Singh, Union Minister of State Pankaj Choudhary, two-time Chunar MLA Anurag Singh, and Rajya Sabha MP R P N Singh are among them.

    Meanwhile, the JD(U) has also begun preparing for a possible role. Anoop Patel was appointed as the new UP president of the party soon after the Lok Sabha election results.

    Subsequently, more appointments of district presidents in Shahjahanpur, Badaun, Ghaziabad, Rampur, Mirzapur, Bhadohi and Ghazipur followed as the JD(U) aims to set up district units in the state over the next two months.

    The JD(U) claims that the Kurmi votes shifted from the NDA to the SP-Congress combine as the BJP relied solely on the AD(S) and that would have not been the case if JD(U) had contested under NDA in UP.

    Notably, JD(U) wanted to contest in Jaunpur and Phulpur. However, the BJP did not accept its proposal. Even so, the JD(U) has begun preparing for the Assembly elections with a target to contest 50 seats.

    It also eyeing the Katehari seat for the Assembly by-polls, which are expected to be held soon as the seat was vacated by SP MP Lalji Verma on winning the Ambedkar Nagar Lok Sabha seat.

    Most likely, the BJP will not let JD(U) contest in Katehari. But what it needs to do is win back the trust of Kurmi voters, as was the case in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

    Nishtha Anushree is Senior Sub-editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @nishthaanushree.

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