BJP's major moves: In a significant step considered as a counter-move to the Opposition’s bid to project the BJP as inimical to the OBC’s interests in the Hindi heartland, the saffron party inducted Om Prakash Rajbhar, a prominent leader from the community into its camp on Sunday (July 16).
The Opposition has seized on a host of issues including the OBC census to corner the BJP government in the run-up to the 2024 general elections. Congress joined the chorus of several regional parties to push for caste census as part of wider efforts to increase the OBC reservation, however, the BJP seems to be making the move on the front foot with Rajbhar now being a part of the NDA months ahead of the next year’s crucial Lok Sabha polls.
While the Opposition is seeking unity among various political parties with different ideologies and political stances over various issues, aiming to oust the Narendra Modi government from the Centre in 2024, the BJP also seems to be playing its cards.
Rajbhar's entry into NDA
The first instance of the saffron party’s strategy could be seen in Maharashtra where NCP heavyweight Ajit Pawar effected a vertical split in his party led by his uncle and veteran leader Sharad Pawar and joined the Maharashtra government. The other example, the latest, is in Uttar Pradesh where Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party chief OP Rajbhar rejoined the NDA, leaving the Opposition ranks.
Uttar Pradesh, consisting of 80 Parliamentary constituencies, has been BJP’s stronghold since 2014. Rajbhar, in the state, is among the leaders who enjoys influence among boatmen and fishermen communities, while Apna Dal (Soneylal) is already a part of the NDA with Anupriya Patel being a Union minister. Her party is said to have support mostly among backward Kurmis.
The Centre has so far been tight-lipped on the demand for a census of Other Backward Classes.
A host of leaders representing smaller parties and identified mostly with a particular backward or Dalit caste have gravitated, mostly from the Opposition, to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in recent months as the ruling party bolsters a flank where it has appeared to be vulnerable at times.
BJP's plans in Bihar
In the politically charged state of Bihar where the BJP aims to win all the Lok Sabha seats next year, despite losing its ally Nitish Kumar who snubbed the saffron party rejoined the Mahagathbandhan last year.
Kushwaha leader Upendra Kushwaha and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, whose Manjhi community is part of Dalits, have left the RJD-JD(U)-Congress-Left alliance.
Manjhi has already extended his support to the NDA while Kushwaha has also conducted a host of meetings with the BJP leaders.
Chirag Paswan, Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) chief, who also expressed his desire to be a part of the NDA, on the condition that Pashupati Paras is not a part of the coalition, is also invited to the NDA meeting in Delhi on July 18. The BJP is making efforts to bring Chirag back into its camp.
Samajwadi Party, however, has been able to pierce through the dominant political force created in Uttar Pradesh since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s victory in 2014. Akhilesh Yadav aligned with the likes of Rajbhar and a rival faction of Apna Dal in the 2022 assembly polls.
Some OBC leaders from the BJP, including Dara Singh Chauhan, had defected to the SP to boost its outreach to non-Yadav backwards and Chauhan's decision to quit as an MLA and likely return to his former party marks yet another setback to the disjointed Opposition in the crucial state.
The SP-RLD alliance in the Western UP had tasted some success in dividing the Jat votes in 2022. With the speculations doing the rounds that the BJP is attempting to woo the Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Singh to join the NDA folds underscores the saffron party’s conviction in winning all 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP had won 62 seats in 2019 while its ally Apna Dal won two.
However, the Mahagathbandhan comprising of RJD, Congress, JD(U) and Left parties, is being considered a far more formidable alliance in Bihar than what it is in Uttar Pradesh.
Moreover, the BJP leaders are of the view that by getting leaders of smaller parties linked to various backward and Dalit castes to their side, they can present the NDA as an umbrella alliance more socially representative than their two main rivals, Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led JD(U).
Meanwhile, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar conducted a meeting with all Opposition leaders at his residence in Patna on June 23, The meeting was held to bring all parties on a single platform against the BJP and to formulate a strategy to take on the BJP. Leaders of over 15 political parties had participated in it.
In response, the BJP is going all out in its effort to return to power for the third time in a row in the 2024 polls which promise to see a hotly built-up campaign.
(With PTI inputs)