UP: SP woos small parties to redo caste matrix

Gorakhpur has a Nishad population of about three lakhs and this will definitely boost the prospects of the Samajwadi Party on this seat.

Lucknow: Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav is now trying to expand the party vote base through tie-ups with smaller players as he realises that his party is no longer on strong wicket after losing the Uttar Pradesh Assembly and municipal elections.

For this, he is attempting to go beyond the traditional Yadav-Muslim base of the Samajwadi Party. His first initiative is to reach out to the Nishad community by announcing Pravin Kumar Nishad as the SP candidate in the upcoming Gorakhpur Lok Sabha byelection.

Pravin Kumar belongs to the relatively unknown NISHAD (Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal) Party and is the son of its president Sanjay Nishad.

Gorakhpur has a Nishad population of about three lakhs and this will definitely boost the prospects of the Samajwadi Party on this seat.

The Nishad community in Uttar Pradesh constitutes less than 4 per cent of the OBC population but is one of the more politically aware OBC groups..

Nishads and their sub-castes like Kevat and Mallah live along river banks in Uttar Pradesh and are involved in occupations related to rivers including boating and fishing.

Phoolan Devi was one of the leaders of the community who made it big in politics.

Mr Yadav is also warming up to the Kurmi community that constitutes about 9 per cent of the population. His recent visit to senior party leader Beni Prasad Varma’s residence on the latter’s birthday is proof of it.

Mr Yadav had cold shouldered Mr Varma when the latter returned to SP in May 2016 since he perceived to be close to Mulayam Singh’s camp. His son Rakesh Varma was among those who were denied ticket in the Assembly polls in 2017 by the Akhilesh faction.

Mr Yadav’s much publicised visit to Mr Varma’s residence earlier this month is seen as an attempt to mend fences with the veteran leaders who wields influence in his community.

A senior SP leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the decision to broaden the party’s OBC base has been taken after discussions.

“We have been perceived as a Yadav-centric party though we have always been an inclusive political entity. We have catered to all communities and giving a ticket to a Nishad is not an exception,” he said.

The fact, however, is that after the divisions widened in the Yadav clan last year and senior leader Shivpal Yadav was alienated, the SP’s Yadav base suffered massive erosion. It was this depletion in Yadav support base that led to the party’s defeat in the Assembly polls and then the municipal elections.

The SP’s Muslim supporters are also upset with Mulayam Singh’s ‘soft’ stand towards the BJP and his aversion to Congress.

Mr Yadav’s refusal to campaign in the municipal elections and give a walkover to the BJP has also been frowned upon by Muslims. Muslims, therefore, are no longer as strongly supportive of the SP as they were two years ago.

The SP chief is now trying to repair the damage. He has picked up the Muslim-dominated Peace Party as one of its allies. The Peace Party enjoys limited influence in eastern UP and its presence on the SP dais will reassure Muslims to an extent.

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