UP polls: No Bihar-style grand alliance, but Nitish has an ally in Ajit Singh
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has held 10 rallies in Uttar Pradesh so far, but none has attracted as much media attention as the one he addressed in the company of Jat strongman Chaudhary Ajit Singh, president of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, at Baghpat's Baraut tehsil on Tuesday.
Their sharing a platform hinted at Nitish's change of heart and a possible alliance in western Uttar Pradesh, even though the Janata Dal United leader made no categorical mention of it at the rally. Praising Ajit Singh's son Jayant Chaudhary, Nitish did say that "a new story can be scripted in UP as we are all together".
Jayant Chaudhary was projected as the chief ministerial candidate of the possible alliance.
Nitish attacked the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party while holding his punches against the Congress.
His attack on the Samajwadi Party was significant as the Rashtriya Janata Dal, his coalition partner in Bihar, had announced its support for the SP. In UP, the allies are headed in different directions.
Initially, the JD(U) and the RJD had said they would together take on the SP and the BJP in UP. Shortly thereafter, RJD chief Lalu Prasad changed his stance and said his party won't field any candidate in the UP election. He said his party would instead work in favour of secular forces in the state.
Lalu was also quoted as saying that Mulayam being his "samdhi" he would take special care of him.
While Lalu was favourably inclined towards the SP, a party which had pulled out of the Bihar alliance at the last minute, Nitish showed no such soft corner for the ruling party at the rally.
Nitish had decided to go it alone in UP after encouraging response to his public meetings in Varanasi, Mirzapur and Ghazipur. But the change in the stands of the political stalwarts from Bihar means the template of Bihar's grand alliance was unlikely to be used in UP.
The calculation behind Nitish Kumar's political flirtation with Ajit is this: UP has 39% OBC vote, 18% Muslim vote and 5% Jat vote.
Ajit Singh, on the other hand, is desperately looking for an alliance to lean on after his credibility among Muslim Jats was badly eroded in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots.
The RLD chief had indicated his willingness to ally with the JD(U) as the bigger players in UP have not warmed up to him even though he had invited "all parties believing in the ideology of Ram Manohar Lohia and Chaudhary Charan Singh", his father, to join forces against the BJP.
Mayawati has already ruled out any pre-poll alliances. The SP too is caught up with infighting in the family to give political alliance a thought. Also, with Nitish planning to nibble at the OBC vote bank, the SP won't relish the idea of joining hands with a predator howsoever weak it might be.
Although the SP state president Shivpal Yadav had recently spoken in support of a Bihar-like grand alliance "to root out communal elements", the party has so far not taken any initiative towards its realisation.
The Congress also appears to have dropped any plans of a grand political alliance, at least for the time being. Buoyed by the response to his Kisan Rath Yatra, the party vice president Rahul Gandhi recently told workers that there will be no tie-up or Bihar-like grand alliance and that the Congress would go it alone in UP.
In May this year, Ajit Singh had met Mulayam while Jayant called on Rahul to discuss a Bihar-like alliance. With the SP non-committal and the BSP and the Congress rejecting the idea outright, Nitish Kumar and Ajit Singh were the only ones left to enter a pre-poll arrangement.