Lucknow: If it is a question of choices, the opposition in Uttar Pradesh does not have any.
The opposition parties are ready to prop up any leader against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, if the leader is willing to take on the BJP.
With some opposition parties being decidedly reticent about West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as the Prime Ministerial candidate, the mantle is likely to fall on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to challenge the BJP in 2024.
Incidentally, Mamata Banerjee has already announced that Nitish Kumar, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren and Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav would be allies in the 2024 contest.
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, who recently met Nitish Kumar when the latter paid a courtesy call on veteran SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is admitted to the Medanta hospital in Gurugram, has said that his party would join and support Nitish Kumar in challenging the BJP in the 2024 polls.
The Samajwadi Party, in any case, has little choice left in the matter. Its allies have deserted the party in Uttar Pradesh and there is a silent revolt brewing in the party ranks.
Akhilesh’s bonhomie with Mamata Banerjee in the recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections could not reap any dividends for the SP.
Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress has no base in Uttar Pradesh and the Bengali population is too small to make any impact in the elections.
Akhilesh has also had a meeting with Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, but the problem is similar because Rao does not have a base in UP.
By supporting Nitish as the Prime Ministerial candidate, the SP hopes to win over at least a section of the Kurmi votes in UP.
Sources in the SP camp said that the party would always prefer Nitish as the prime ministerial candidate than Mamata or Rao because with Nitish Kumar, the SP can tap into the Kurmi votes.
After the demise of former Union Minister Beni Prasad Varma, the SP does not have a Kurmi leader who can attract votes for the party.
Kurmi votes have largely been with the BJP and its ally, Apna Dal is a Kurmi-centric party.
JD(U) sources said that Nitish Kumar is keen to expand his party’s base in Uttar Pradesh and has even appointed former MP, Dhananjay Singh of Jaunpur, as the party’s national general secretary.
The SP is hopeful of an alliance with the JD(U) that would go beyond the 2024 elections if it supports Nitish Kumar as the prime ministerial candidate.
The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which is an ally of the Samajwadi Party and has eight MLAs in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, is also set to toe the SP line.
According to an RLD insider, Jayant Chaudhary is in no mood to disturb the alliance because his priority is to consolidate his party’s base in state politics.
“RLD will go with the SP and support Nitish Kumar since Jayant Chaudhary has been mobilising farmers against the BJP and the youth against the ‘Agnipath scheme, which clearly implies that he will not go with the BJP,” said a party leader.
As for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), its president Mayawati remains unsure of her political moves.
Her partymen admit, albeit on condition of anonymity, that ‘Behenji’ — as she is known in party circles — will end up supporting the BJP.
“Mayawati has already burnt her bridges with the SP and Congress. She has openly supported the BJP candidates in the recent elections of President and Vice-President. We are almost sure that she would go with the BJP again in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections,” said a senior party leader.