Since his exit from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in August, senior Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been meeting Opposition leaders. He has met a gamut of Opposition leaders from senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar to Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao and Left leaders, possibly with the idea of floating a common Opposition front against the BJP. But missing from the list is Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Mayawati.
Sources in the JD(U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which is also part of the ruling coalition in Bihar, told The Indian Express that no channel for dialogue regarding the 2024 polls had opened up between the two leaders despite strong speculation about Kumar either contesting the general elections from Uttar Pradesh or campaigning for the Samajwadi Party (SP).
Asked why Nitish had not met anyone from the BSP, a senior JD(U) leader said, “Nitish Kumar has so far met those Opposition leaders who appreciated and welcomed his move to exit the NDA; those who are our partners in the Bihar government; and those looking for an effective alternative to the BJP. At no stage has Mayawati expressed willingness to be a part of the Opposition.”
During the presidential elections in June, the BSP supported NDA presidential candidate, and incumbent President, Droupadi Murmu. While announcing her support for Murmu, Mayawati laid into other parties for keeping the BSP out of discussions regarding the Opposition’s nominee for the post. She said they were “anti-BSP” and had a “casteist attitude”.
According to political observers, the SP is another major reason why Mayawati has kept away from the Opposition space. Among those Nitish called on earlier this month when he was in the national Capital were SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Subsequently, a banner was unfurled at the SP headquarters in Lucknow, displaying the sense of bonhomie between the top leaders of the two parties. “UP + Bihar = Gayi Modi Sarkar (UP + Bihar = End of the Modi government),” read the slogan on the banner. Akhilesh was also the first UP leader to welcome Nitish’s move to break ties with the BJP.
In contrast, relations between the SP and the BSP have been in tatters since their short-lived alliance during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The two parties broke their partnership just after the polls. On Wednesday, Mayawati tweeted: “Secular forces voted the SP and made it the main Opposition party (against the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP in the state) but SP has failed in giving a challenge to BJP.”
She added, “Even after having a large number in Vidhan Sabha, SP appears very helpless and weak against the government; that is very worrisome.”
The JD(U) and the RJD said it was up to Mayawati to decide if she wanted to join efforts to put together a larger Opposition front against the BJP. JD(U) national spokesperson KC Tyagi said his party was “not in favour of any type of political untouchability. UP-based parties who are against the BJP have to decide what they have to do. BSP too has to decide.”
A senior RJD leader said, “Behen ji (Mayawati) has to take the call if she wants to join the Opposition or not. We are hopeful that the BSP will join other Opposition leaders to defeat the BJP.” Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav met Mayawati in Lucknow. Tejashwi’s move at the time was seen as an attempt to consolidate the Dalit votes in Bihar in favour of his party.
A senior Congress leader said neither the SP nor the BSP appeared to be in a position to defeat the BJP on the strength of their vote base of Yadavs and Dalits. “Even if they get Muslim votes, they will need the support of other OBCs to defeat BJP.”
BSP spokesperson Dharamvir Chaudhary said, “The BSP is preparing to contest the elections on its strength of alliance with the public. The rest has to be decided by the party president. If she takes a decision (for alliance), the party will follow.”