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Nitish to follow Modi's PM route: Might fight LS polls from UP

Anil K Ankur | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST
The plan
  • Nitish Kumar is gearing up for a direct fight with PM Modi in the 2019 general elections
  • Nitish and the JD(U) have set their sights on Uttar Pradesh as their electoral battleground
The significance
  • Uttar Pradesh has a significant place in India\'s polity, as it sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha
  • Most of India\'s Prime Ministers have been elected from UP, including Modi

More in the story

  • Will Nitish ally with Mulayam, a rival for the PM\'s chair?
  • Which BJP ally is planning to join hands with Nitish?

Having comprehensively won the battle for Bihar, Nitish Kumar is now gearing up for a direct showdown with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Speculations is rife that the Bihar Chief Minister could chose the political turf of Uttar Pradesh to challenge Modi.

Both Nitish and his party, the Janata Dal (United), have lately sprung into action in UP. There are indications that Nitish is testing the waters in the upcoming UP Assembly polls, with an eye on the next general elections.

Why the focus on UP?

It is said that the path to the power corridors of Delhi passes through Uttar Pradesh. Most of India's Prime Ministers, including Modi, have been elected from UP. It is India's politically most important state, with 80 parliamentary seats.

Nitish is also looking to follow the same route, in order to fulfill his grand ambitions. The JD(U) and its allies are preparing to project Nitish as an undisputed Kurmi leader in the state.

None of the main political parties in Uttar Pradesh have any prominent Kurmi leader in their ranks. The influence of former Union Minister and Congress leader Beni Prasad Verma does not go beyond Barabanki.

None of the main political parties in UP have any prominent Kurmi leaders, which is Nitish's caste

Similarly, the political clout of the current Central minister Santosh Gangwar is restricted only to the Bareilly belt. His BJP colleague, Vinay Katiyar, is not the kind of leader who could unite the whole Kurmi vote bank.

Therefore, the JD(U) has reasons to believe its UP experiment could pay dividends and elevate Nitish to a significant role in national politics. The increasing interest of Nitish and his party colleague Sharad Yadav in the political affairs of UP is being perceived as a precursor to this strategy.

Lalu firmly behind Nitish

It's no secret that Nitish is keen to take on a national role in 2019. In fact, if a non-BJP, non-Congress dispensation comes to power in 2019, he is said to be among the frontrunners for the Prime Minister's chair, along with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

For Nitish to find a foothold in UP, he needs to consolidate the Kurmi and Yadav vote behind him. And while Sharad Yadav is repeatedly visiting the state nowadays to make sure this happens, the ace up Nitish's sleeve is undoubtedly Lalu Prasad.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo and Nitish's grand alliance partner in Bihar is purportedly backing the JD(U)'s UP plan. He has publicly declared that Nitish is the most fitting candidate for the PM's post on several occasions.

Allying with smaller parties

Bolstered by Lalu's support, the state office-bearers of the JD(U) have started to explore the possibility of allying with the smaller regional parties in UP.

Several smaller parties like the Peace Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal seem to have developed a liking for the JD(U). Even BJP ally Apna Dal is toying with the idea of allying with Nitish. Party chief Krishna Patel believes there is a need to unite the Kurmis of UP, and Nitish can play an important role in this task.

Even BJP ally Apna Dal is contemplating tying up with Nitish, as it sees the need to unite Kurmis

Interestingly, the JD(U) has decided to keep a safe distance from the Samajwadi Party in this pursuit. This is because Mulayam also views himself as a potential PM candidate, and party strategists fear he could thwart Nitish's chances in the final calculation.

JD(U) state president Suresh Niranjan had recently claimed his party does not need the SP's support, and that any alliance can only be formed on the conditions set by the JD(U).

The party is also trying to showcase the recently-imposed liquor prohibition in Bihar. Sources say it might soon launch a campaign for a similar decision in UP.

Such a movement could help Nitish in gaining hold among the middle-class and rural voters.

First published: 7 May 2016, 8:57 IST