In a dramatic sequence of events, the Nishad Party announced its decision to withdraw support from the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance in Uttar Pradesh and subsequently joined hands with the BJP. In turn, the SP immediately fielded former minister Ram Bhuwal Nishad as its candidate from Gorakhpur.
As a result, the union between the SP, the BSP and the Nishad Party, which had registered a historic win on the seat of chief minister Yogi Adityanath in the Lok Sabha by-polls, has come apart after merely a year.
The camaraderie of two parties, the BJP and the Nishad Party, that were up in arms against each other till four days ago has left everyone astounded. With this fresh development, the political equations have gone haywire in Gorakhpur and its surrounding districts.
Nishad Party chief Dr Sanjay Nishad has alleged that despite being a coalition partner, he was not given due respect. There was no mention of the Nishad Party in the combined campaign material of SP-BSP-RLD.
According to Dr Nishad, his party is bigger than the Rashtriya Lok Dal, yet he was denied a seat to contest elections. In fact, the party did not announce the candidature of even his son, Gorakhpur MP Praveen Kumar Nishad, who had won on an SP ticket in the by-polls.
Dr Nishad claims that he wanted to contest the elections on a Nishad Party ticket from Maharajganj but he was not being given an explicit assurance about the seat. He also alleges that SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has knelt in front of the BSP adding that the by-election was won because of the Nishad Party but he was not given credit for it.
Meanwhile, the SP leaders have accused Nishad of demanding more seats than appropriate for his political status, and holding bargains. They claim that the by-poll victory was owing to the SP-BSP unity and the polarisation of anti-BJP votes. The Nishad Party claims full control over the Nishad community votes but it could not fetch all the Nishad votes in the by-election, they claim. In Pipraich constituency, which has the most number of Nishad voters, the BJP candidate got more votes.
The SP candidate, Ram Bhuwal Nishad, has even accused the Nishad Party of striking a Rs 50 crore deal with the BJP. He claims that Dr Nishad has struck a deal to sell the Nishad voters.
Apart from this blame game, there is another reason behind the break-up of this coalition. While the growing ambition of the Nishad party is responsible for the alliance’s disintegration, the rigid attitude of the SP-BSP is another reason. The Nishad party had earlier demanded more seats but finally settled upon two. The party wanted Praveen Nishad to be fielded from Gorakhpur again.
It was also agreed upon that Praveen Nishad would contest on an SP ticket. Dr Nishad wanted to contest from Maharajganj and demanded that he contest the election on his party’s ticket backed by the SP and the BSP. Overall, a consensus was reached, and Dr Sanjay Nishad started campaigning in Maharajganj. On 8 March, he held a rally in Gorakhpur demanding reservation for Nishads.
After the rally, MP Praveen Nishad, accompanied by party workers, was stopped and lathi-charged by the police on the way to the CM’s office, located in the Gorakhnath temple, to hand over a memorandum. He suffered injuries and remained in custody for several hours. Already miffed with the BJP, the incident further alienated Nishad supporters. The SP and the Nishad party also held a joint protest against the incident.
So far, everything was going well. The BJP was worried about this unity. So, it strategically planned to divide Nishad votes by inducting former minister Jamuna Nishad’s wife, former SP MLA Rajmati Nishad and her son Amarendra Nishad into the party.
The problem arose when the SP started delaying the announcement of its candidates in Gorakhpur and Maharajganj. Of the nine Lok Sabha seats in the Gorakhpur and Basti division, six have been given to the BSP, while the SP bagged three, namely: Gorakhpur, Maharajganj and Kushinagar. However, while the BSP announced the names of candidates on five out of six seats of its share, the SP did not play its card.
This led to apprehension within the Nishad Party that there might be an attempt to ignore its demands. As a result, by the third week of March, the Nishad Party had started pressurising the SP to declare the candidates on the Gorakhpur-Maharajganj seat soon.
On 26 March, the SP national president Akhilesh Yadav addressed a press conference in Lucknow and announced a tie-up with the Nishad Party and Dr Sanjay Chauhan’s Janwadi Party (Socialist) as part of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance but even then he made no comment regarding the two seats despite repeated questions from journalists. He simply said that the Nishad party will be given due respect.
Some prominent SP leaders have said that the party was willing to field only Praveen Nishad from Gorakhpur and that too on its own ticket. The party wanted to field someone else from Maharajganj.
The difficulty with the SP was that the BSP had clearly refused to share its seat with any minor party whereas the SP had to accommodate the RLD within its share of seats. Akhilesh was also forced to grant tickets to members of his own family. Owing to this, he was left with very few seats to field party workers. All the party leaders were slowly drifting towards the Congress out of fear of not getting a ticket. The SP was not in the position to adjust any more minor parties in its seat share.
On the other hand, the SP leaders in and around Gorakhpur believed that the Nishad Party was being given unnecessary attention. They were reluctant to share the Gorakhpur seat. Even in the by-polls, Akhilesh Yadav had a hard time convincing his party leaders.
The SP finally refused to give in to the Nishad Party’s demand and the two broke up. Ever since its conception, the Nishad Party has been bargaining with bigger parties for better seat-sharing. First, it formed an alliance with the Peace Party both of whom contested the 2017 assembly polls together but managed to win only one seat.
Both Dr Ayyub, national president of Peace Party, and Dr Sanjay Nishad lost the elections despite receiving a fairly good amount of votes on all the seats. The BJP had tried to woo the Nishad Party even during the assembly polls, but a consensus could not be reached.
Dr Ayyub and Dr Nishad once told me that when the BJP offered the Nishad Party to join hands with it for the assembly polls, they had told the BJP that it was either both of them or none. After that, talks with the BJP were suspended. The attempts of the RSS and the BJP to lure the Nishad Party continued even after the assembly polls but in the assembly by-polls the Nishad Party had a tie up with the SP.
Peace Party president Dr Ayyub used to claim that he was the architect of the alliance and told the media on various occasions how he had managed to convince BSP Supremo Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav to form a coalition which resulted in their historic win in the Gorakhpur-Phulpur by-polls.
However, in the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections, while he was still all praise for the successful formula of an opposition coalition, his party was the first to be ousted from the alliance. He drifted towards the Congress but his whopping demand for seven seats was dismissed. He was told that the Congress might consider joining hands if both the Peace Party and the Nishad Party join together. But then Dr Ayyub had faith that the SP will honour its demand. And so, he refused to go with the Congress.
When the Peace Party ended up alone, it ultimately allied with Shivpal Yadav’s Progressive Socialist Party Lohia. According to sources, strongman Dhananjay Singh, who wanted to contest from Jaunpur, played a major role in bringing the Nishad party into the BJP’s fold after it broke off from the alliance.
Dhananjay Singh had hoped for a long time to contest polls from Jaunpur with the support of the Nishad party in order to channel the votes of both Nishad and Bind communities. Talks of seat sharing between the Nishad Party and the BJP also included the Jaunpur seat.
The biggest question now is how the splitting of the Nishad Party from the SP will affect the politics of eastern Uttar Pradesh. The alliance between the Nishad Party and the BJP is favoured neither by the Nishad party workers nor the BJP leaders.
The theoretical framework of the Nishad party as prepared by Dr Sanjay Nishad was rooted in opposition to the BJP and the RSS. He had earlier lashed out at the BJP calling it a Manuwadi and an anti-backward communities party. He even claimed that the Gorakhnath temple belonged to the Nishad community which irked Yogi Adityanath’s supporters.
Now, the workers of both the parties are shocked to see the two teaming up. It has resulted in a social media tirade. Some even claim that Gorakhpur’s by-election was fixed between Yogi Adityanath and the Nishad Party.
In the Vijay Sankalp rally organised by the BJP in Gorakhpur on 26 March to kick-start its nationwide election campaign, all the party big-wigs and other leaders described the BJP’s defeat in the by-polls as a disgrace, making snide remarks about the MP who won from the constituency, saying that he has not made a public appearance since being elected.
However, ever since the Nishad Party challenged Yogi Adityanath in the Lok Sabha elections and the subsequent Lok Sabha bypolls, he has made no comment regarding Dr Nishad or his party; not even during the Gorakhpur rally. And now, his silence is raising questions.
In the changed circumstances, if Praveen Nishad contests from Gorakhpur on a BJP ticket it is highly doubtful that the BJP workers would show any enthusiasm in campaigning for him. Looming large is also the threat of disintegration of the Brahmin vote that had viciously supported the BJP candidate Upendra Dutt Shukla during the bypoll.
Dr Nishad is now going to have a tough time keeping his supporters together. Within three years, he had managed to unite 80% of the Nishad community under his party’s banner. His sphere was growing steadily but his sudden decision to go with the BJP has done a great deal of harm to the party.
Over the past two days, the Nishad party is desperately trying to justify its decision on social media platforms, claiming that Dr Nishad has joined hands with the BJP to save the party and gain reservation for the Nishad community, but their supporters and party workers don’t seem convinced. The party workers maintain that if the SP had failed to honour them, then the party could have fought independently. Why do they need to cling on to another party? It is surmised that in the BJP, Dr Nishad will meet the same fate as Om Prakash Rajbhar.
In the current situation, it seems the Nishad vote will float. A huge inter-discord has arisen within the Nishad party for joining hands with the BJP. Whether the three-year-old party will emerge unscathed from it, seems highly unlikely at present.
Not only the BJP, but even the SP and the BSP are relishing the situation as all of them perceived the emergence of the fresh political force of Nishads as a threat and wanted to curtail the bargaining power of the Nishad Party. They were aware that with 14% of Nishad votes, the party will only grow stronger with each election.
This is why the SP and the BSP were not willing to offer it more than one seat even though the RLD-Congress alliance gave Mukesh Sahni’s VIP Party three seats despite the fact that it is not a cadre-based party, unlike the Nishad party. Had the SP-BSP alliance included the parties of Rajbhar, Chauhan, Bind, Maurya-Kushwaha, Patel-Kurmi and other communities, the BJP would be faced with a tough challenge in UP but now these parties have scattered among the BJP, Congress, and the SP-BSP alliance.
Manoj Singh is a senior journalist based in Gorakhpur.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.