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Friday, July 30, 2021

In UP politics, the importance of being Om Prakash Rajbhar

After the elections, the BJP alleged that an SBSP MLA had cross-voted, and Rajbhar announced a “review” of whether or not to continue the alliance with the BJP. The party will hold a meeting on this Tuesday.

Written by Lalmani Verma | New Delhi |
Updated: June 20, 2021 2:36:20 pm
om prakash rajbhar, bjp, amit shah, yogi government, yogi adityanath, uttar pradesh, bharatiya janata party, uttar pradesh, lucknow news Om Prakash Rajbhar, national president of the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP)

Last week, when BJP ally Om Prakash Rajbhar threatened to boycott the Rajya Sabha elections in UP, it took the intervention of BJP president Amit Shah, who invited him to a meeting in Delhi, to change Rajbhar’s mind. Rajbhar, Minister for Backward Classes Welfare, is president of the Suheldeo Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), which has only four MLAs including Rajbhar, but their votes were crucial to the BJP in getting all its nine candidates through.

The patch-up was short-lived. After the elections, the BJP alleged that an SBSP MLA had cross-voted, and Rajbhar announced a “review” of whether or not to continue the alliance with the BJP. The party will hold a meeting on this Tuesday.

It has been a rough relationship ever since the two parties came together for the 2017 Assembly elections. The government was only four months old when, in July 2017, Rajbhar threatened to stage a dharna on the campus of the collectorate in Ghazipur in protest against the then district magistrate who, he alleged, was not listening to people’s problems. He called off the dharna after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath met and heard him out.

Read | For Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypoll loss, BJP MLA Surendra Singh blames neglect of workers

Since then, Rajbhar has also been in conflict with BJP minister Anil Rajbhar — each claims to be the leader of the Rajbhar caste —with Om Prakash holding a public meeting in Varanasi and Anil addressing one in Ghazipur the same day, January 28. And this month, besides threatening to boycott the Rajya Sabha polls, Rajbhar skipped the celebration of the government’s first year in office.

Even the alliance had come in the wake of a showdown. In February 2016, Shah had gone to Bahraich and unveiled a statue of Suheldeo, 11th-century king of the region, and praised his heroism. Days later, Rajbhar accused the BJP of trying to appropriate the legacy of the king, who is believed to have belonged to the Rajbhar community, and started a series of public meetings to mobilise support against the BJP. In July that year, however, Shah attended a programme organised by Rajbhar in Mau, and announced the alliance for the 2017 elections. The SBSP contested eight seats and won four, with Rajbhar elected from Zahoorabad in Ghazipur.

Read | Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party to review ties with BJP: ‘There are concerns’

Shah is said to have been impressed with the way Rajbhar effortlessly spells out — in an unbroken string — the names of over 60 most backward and Dalit castes in his speeches. The SBSP seeks to address the causes of all these castes, which account for more than 20% of the population in eastern UP. The Rajbhar community itself makes up only 3% of UP but has a presence in nearly 125 Assembly seats — and a dozen Lok Sabha seats — in eastern UP. The SBSP claims that a little support from other communities to the Rajbhars can bring the party victory in 62 Assembly seats.

Rajbhar had started with the BSP, working with founder Kanshi Ram and going on to become BSP district president in Varanasi. He lost an Assembly election from Kolasla in Varanasi in 1991. Soon after BSP chief Mayawati become chief minister, Rajbhar was protesting against her government. He staged a 18-day dharna alleging the government was ignoring the interests of the most backwards communities and working for only one section of Dalits.

He eventually left the BSP and joined the Apna Dal and became state president of the youth wing. He left Apna Dal too when founder Soneylal Patel denied him an election ticket to Kolasla.

Rajbhar launched the SBSP in 2002. Over a series of elections, it lost every seat it contested — an Assembly bypoll in Chiraigaon in 2003, 12 Lok Sabha seats in 2004, 128 Assembly seats in 2007, 18 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 (with the Apna Dal as its ally), 52 Assembly seats in 2012 (with Mukhtar Ansari’s Quami Ekta Dal as an ally), and 13 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. Among the last 13 was Rajbhar himself, who lost from the Salempur Lok Sabha seat.

In the 2017 elections, when Rajbhar became an MLA for the first time, his son Arvind lost from Bansdeeh. Since then, the SBSP has contested civic polls without allying with the BJP, winning 62 seats of corporators and five of nagar panchayat chairpersons. UP has 653 urban bodies.

Even as Rajbhar “reviews” the alliance, his son’s ambitions could test it further. Arvind, principal general secretary of the SBSP, is preparing to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Ghosi, where Harinarayan Rajbhar is the sitting BJP MP. The BJP is yet to discuss seat-sharing with its allies, including Apna Dal (Soneylal), when Arvind has announced himself as Ghosi candidate on social media. Sources said the SBSP is demanding five seats — Ghosi, Salempur, Ambedkarnagar, Bansgaon and Machchlishahr — all of which have BJP MPs. SBSP sources say more than 20% of the voters are of the most backward communities.

Of late, SBSP workers in eastern UP have been flexing their muscle with the slogan “BJP ki majboori hai, sarkar banane ko Suheldeo Bharatiya Samaj Party zaroori jai.”

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