The Uttar Pradesh unit of the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), has set political circles in the state abuzz by proposing to their central leadership that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the party’s leader, contest the 2024 Lok Sabha elections from the state and throw down a challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose constituency is Varanasi.
Earlier this month, Kumar met Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav and his father and former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav in a hospital in Gurugram where Mulayam was undergoing treatment. The meeting came during Kumar’s tour of Delhi to meet Opposition leaders. Days before that, the JD(U) UP unit had proposed at the party’s national executive meeting in Patna that the Bihar CM contest the general elections from the BJP-ruled state.
The JD(U)’s UP president Anoop Singh Patel said he had proposed that Kumar contest from Mirzapur, Phulpur, or Ambedkar Nagar. These seats have a strong presence of voters from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). A majority of them are Kurmis, Mauryas, Shakyas, Kushwahas, and Sainis. Kumar belongs to the Kurmi community whose votes are decisive in several constituencies in eastern and central UP, and Bundelkhand.
Both Mirzapur and Phulpur are close to Varanasi. Mirzapur’s MP is Apna Dal (S) leader and Union minister Anupriya Patel who is a BJP ally. The constituency has a large Kurmi population. Phulpur and Ambedkar Nagar have demographic similarities to Varanasi due to the presence of a significant number of OBCs, upper castes, and Muslims.
“We have not received any response yet from the central leadership but we have pitched for Nitish Kumar’s candidature from UP. The UP unit has given the proposal to central leadership after discussing it at the state level,” said Anoop Singh Patel.
Asked why UP, he said, “Our alliance is already going to win Bihar. Our base vote is in UP too. If the party has to do national politics, it must enter UP.” Patel added that the party had already launched a membership drive in UP to create organisational teams ahead of the general elections.
Patel claimed that the party was preparing to contest 20 Lok Sabha seats and announced that rallies addressed by the Bihar CM would be organised soon in Mirzapur and Jaunpur.
Following the meeting between the Yadavs and Nitish, a banner unfurled at the SP office in Lucknow had pictures of the JD(U) leader and the SP chief side by side along with the slogan, “UP + Bihar = Gayi Modi Sarkar (UP + Bihar = End of the Modi government).”
Previous forays into UP
Nitish Kumar has addressed rallies in Mirzapur and Phulpur in the past. In 2016, a year before the Assembly elections, the Bihar CM tried to make inroads in UP by addressing at least six public events. It included a political convention organised in July 2016 in Phoolpur, where he highlighted the “good governance” model of Bihar. The month before he addressed a rally in Mirzapur. He also participated in a convention in Varanasi on May 12. The same month, he also addressed a convention in Lucknow on “liquor ban”. In February, he had addressed a gathering in Ghazipur district. But the party eventually did not contest Assembly elections.
Two years later, the JD(U) made another foray into the state ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. It contested the seats of Robertsganj, Pilibhit, and Akbarpur but lost all. Earlier this year, the JD(U) lost in all the 27 constituencies in which it fielded candidates.
Unlike the previous elections, Nitish is hoping that a larger grouping of Opposition parties will band together against the BJP for the next general elections. Current alliance partner and Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav last month said Nitish might be a “strong candidate for PM” if he chose to take on the mantle. At the end of last month, the Bihar CM tried to evade the question when asked about it at a press conference he jointly addressed with his Telangana counterpart K Chandrashekar Rao, or KCR, of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi.
A week later, apart from the Yadavs, Nitish met Opposition leaders such as Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, Sharad Yadav, and Om Prakash Chautala during his visit to the national Capital.