NEW DELHI -- Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar wants to cross over to Uttar Pradesh and try to replicate the Mahagathbandhan strategy in India's most populous state. It helped him land an emphatic victory against an ascendent Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar. Can it work in UP?
It will likely end up being a damp squib.
This week, reports emerged that Kumar's Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, a party with influence among the Jats of Western UP, will merge to contest the 2017 UP polls.
There are many cultural and caste factors that should make JD(U) an attractive party for the Eastern UP voter. But the party has never had a good run in the state. Its seats in the state assembly have been declining, from two in 2002, one in 2007, to zero in 2012.
Not So Grand
In Bihar, it was an alliance of equals--two parties with a tradition of power and influence coming together against a common enemy--the BJP.
In UP, neither is there a sole enemy to be vanquished nor is there a union of equals. With the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party ruling out a partnership, Kumar will be forced to reach out to parties which don't have the clout to make an electoral impact.
The RLD, for instance, was placed fifth with nine seats in 2012 State Assembly Election, and it didn't win any seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. "The RLD is in the habit of getting into alliances, said Sudhai Pai, a political science professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University. "I wouldn't be surprised if they tie up with the Congress before the election comes around."
The Apna Dal, another party which Kumar is reportedly speaking with, draws support from the Kurmis (the same caste as him), won one seat in the 2012 State Assembly election and two seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The party had struck an alliance with the BJP for the 2014 elections.
Development Agenda Absent
Since the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Modi has made development politics key to campaigning in India. In the Bihar polls, the electorate chose to believe Kumar's record of development work in the state over Modi's promises.
In U.P., however, Kumar will be an outsider. While law and order is a huge thorn in SP's side, analysts say that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has done enough on the development front to make an impression on voters.
"The development agenda will be hijacked by Akhilesh Yadav and Modi," said Anil Verma, a political science professor at Christ Church College in Kanpur. "He (Yadav) is being able to substantiate some visible development in the energy sector, metros, the expressway."
Secular Isn't A Novelty
Nitish Kumar's USP of a "secular" candidate won't fly in U.P. which is filled with "secular" candidates.
"Secular today means pro-Muslim. Nitish won't get any play because everyone with the exception of BJP is secular in Uttar Pradesh," said Ajay Kumar Jha, a political science professor at the A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies in Patna.
Even though caste configurations have similarities in Bihar and U.P., an outsider will find it hard to dent the existing tie-ups between voters and political parties in any significant way. So entrenched are these loyalties that SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav have never been able to compete for the Yadav vote on each other's turf.
Kumar won't find room in in U.P., where the SP supremo gets the Yadav vote, Mayawati dominates the scheduled caste voter base, and the upper castes vote for the BJP. Experts say that BSP and SP will fragment the backward castes, and BJP may still try for an alliance with the BSP.
U.P. is also missing the crucial Mahadalit category, which was created by Kumar to break Ram Vilas Paswan's monopoly over Dalits in Bihar, Jha pointed out. "They have not got the concept of Mahadalits in U.P. so there is no advantage for him," he said.
U.P. already has powerful Kurmi leaders who have been associated with well-established parties. Over the years, they have been accommodated in the cabinets of the BJP, BSP and the SP.
Beni Prasad Verma, for instance, is now a prominent Congress face. Ram Lakhan Verma served as the forest minister in the Mayawati's cabinet, and Om Prakash Singh was in the cabinet of the BSP-BJP coalition government.
"He is ambitious now and wants to expand into other states and eventually to the Centre," said Pai. "These are ambitions that politicians have whether they work or not."
"He hopes to be prime minister in 2019," said Jha.
"Possibilities can never be ruled out in politics," said Verma.