New entrants from opposition parties as well as leaders associated with the BJP are aligned by it to the symbol of its two OBC-based allies – the Nishad party and Apna Dal (Sonelal) – as the saffron party develops a strategy to capitalize on their Nishad and Kurmi support bases to counter the Samajwadi party-led alliance caste mobilization.
Of the four candidates declared so far by the Nishad party, three are associated with the BJP while one had recently joined the saffron party. The BJP had lost three of those four seats in 2017.
In Katehari in Ambedkar Nagar, the Nishad party fielded Awadesh Dwivedi, who as the BJP candidate came second in the last elections. Mr. Dwivedi is a former BJP District Vice President. In Tamkuhiraj in Kushinagar, the candidate of the Nishad Party is Asim Kumar. Mr. Kumar, a doctor, said he has been the local organizer of the BJP’s Chiktisa Prakosth (medical cell) since 2014. “I am a BJP worker,” he said.
In the Atrauliya seat of Azamgarh, the Nishad party fielded Prashant Kumar Singh. An architect, Mr Singh was not an official member of the BJP, but according to his family members he was active in the BJP along with his uncle, a former BJP district chairman.
In Kalpi (Jalaun), the candidate of the Nishad party is former BSP MP Chhote Singh. In 2017, Mr Singh was second in the seat and had joined the BJP in October last year. The BJP dropped its incumbent MP in that seat.
Former MLA Rashmi Arya, who joined the BJP earlier in January, was fielded by Apna Dal (S) from Mauranipur in Jhansi. She had placed second on an SP symbol in 2017.
In 2017, Katehari was won by BSP’s Lalji Verma, who now contests on an SP symbol. Congress State Speaker Ajay Kumar Lallu is Tamkuhiraj’s incumbent MP in Kushinagar, while Atrauliya is held by SP’s Sangram Yadav, who won by a narrow margin in the last election against a Nishad candidate of the BJP. Atrauliya has a large population from communities bordering Nishad and competition over the Nishad party symbol helps the BJP alliance to mobilize voters from these communities.
The Apna Dal (S) led by Union Minister Anupriya Patel also lined up Haider Ali Khan, a member of the former Rampur royalty from the seat of Suar in Rohilkhand in northwestern UP against Abdullah Azam, the son of top SP leader Azam Khan.
The Apna Dal (S) claims influence within the Kurmi OBC community, traditionally associated with agriculture. He also declared candidates in Ghatampur in Kanpur and Kaimganj in Farukkhabad in central UP In Ghatampur, the Apna Dal fielded Saroj Kureel who had secured a second place as a BSP candidate in 2017. In Kaimganj, the ‘Apna Dal declared Surabhi as his candidate. Ms Surabhi was the SP candidate in 2017.
SP MLA Subash Pasi of Saidpur in Ghazipur, who had recently joined the BJP, has also been inducted into the Nishad party and is likely to be aligned by the party. Sirathu’s former BSP and SP MLA in Kaushambi, Vachapati, also switched to BJP ally Apna Dal.