modi ko Why Samajwadi Party leaders are projecting Akhilesh-Nitish Kumar unity in UP

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Nitish Kumar, a Kurmi leader, can help the SP build appeal among OBCs in Uttar Pradesh and rope in regional outfits into the Opposition alliance

Nitish Kumar’ appears to be the new rallying point for the Opposition in Uttar Pradesh. A banner put up at the Samajwadi Party (SP) headquarters in Lucknow says it all. ‘UP + Bihar = Gayi Modi Sarkar’, it reads and features SP chief Akhilesh Yadav with the Bihar chief minister. The messaging is being read as the SP’s support for Nitish’s call to unite Opposition parties for the Lok Sabha elections

Already, some Opposition leaders have declared Nitish as the most suitable Opposition face for the post of prime minister in 2024. The Janata Dal (United) leader belongs to the Kurmi OBC community, and the SP understandably hopes to cash in on this to reach out to OBCs in UP.

Like in Bihar, Kurmis have the potential to determine the electoral outcome in several seats in UP. They are the second most influential OBC segment in the state, next only to the Rajbhars, who back former SP ally O.P. Rajbhar and his Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP). Kurmis constitute about 7-8 per cent of UP’s 243 million population. In the state’s eastern belt, they can play a key role in elections in the Pratapgarh, Prayagraj, Sonbhadra and Mirzapur regions. Analysts say the SP’s Yadav-Muslim base, coupled with the support of Kurmis, can pose problems for the BJP in many seats in UP. Yadavs and Kurmis together are about 18 per cent of the electorate in the state.

UP and Bihar together account for 120 Lok Sabha seats, and these states may play the decider in 2024. UP and Bihar are going to vote for the socialists,” claims SP leader I.P. Singh, who had put up the banner at the SP office. He says Nitish should contest the Lok Sabha election from UP’s Phulpur seat, where Kurmis are significant in number.

Another SP leader adds that Nitish and Akhilesh coming together will be a big message for OBCs in UP, who make up over 40 per cent of the population. Nitish, he says, has two big positives. Apart from being a Kurmi leader, he enjoys a clean image. “If Nitish, his ally Tejashwi Yadav (of the Rashtriya Janata Dal) and Akhilesh were to share the dais in Purvanchal, the SP would gain more seats there,” said the leader.

SP functionaries are hopeful that Nitish will bring some regional parties into the Opposition fold in UP and help bridge the gap between their party and the Congress. It may also help in forging tactical understanding between parties for the Lok Sabha polls. “Nitish could even have a word with Mayawati if Opposition unity becomes the primary focus,” said an SP leader.

SP sources claim Nitish is scheduled to pay a visit to Lucknow, where he will share the stage with Akhilesh. Nitish had recently met Akhilesh and SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav in Delhi. While interacting with the media, the Bihar CM had pointed towards Akhilesh and said “he will lead UP in the days to come”. Akhilesh said he fully backed Nitish’s endeavour to unite the Opposition.

Political observer Professor Kavi Raj, who teaches political science at Lucknow University, feels the emerging Akhilesh-Nitish bonhomie holds potential. “This could be a good bet in terms of the Lok Sabha polls. But to build a narrative that theirs is a national alternative against the BJP, they will need to rope in the Congress,

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