Small parties in Uttar Pradesh such as the NISHAD Party, Apna Dal (S) and AIMIM may not account for many Lok Sabha seats in 2019, but are pitching themselves as potential "game changers" in the BJP versus opposition battle in the state.
In the assembly polls, smaller political outfits play a key role in transferring their "dedicated" vote bank to their allies, but in Lok Sabha elections such parties have traditionally struggled to make a big impact.
However, several parties such as the NISHAD Party, Peace Party, Apna Dal (Sonelal), Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) are pitching themselves as attractive allies for the 2019 polls, asserting that in close contests their transfer of vote bank would decisively influence the outcome in the state.
It is likely that they would be given very few seats to contest, but these parties believe that they would be able to swing the result in favour of bigger alliance partners by transferring their vote bank.
"In the current scenario, the SP (Samajwadi Party), the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), NISHAD Party, Peace Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) will fight the 2019 polls together and talks are on with the Congress," Praveen Nishad, MP from Gorakhpur who won the bypoll on SP symbol after Yogi Adityanath vacated the seat, told PTI.
He, however, cautioned that, "We (NISHAD Party) should get our due and be given the seats on which we have our claim, otherwise if small parties are not given their due then the result will be there to see."
The NISHAD -- Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal -- Party was formed for empowerment of those such as boatmen or fishermen whose traditional occupations depended on rivers. Its founder Sanjay Nishad is a former member of the BSP.
"We are seeking about five to six seats," said the UP in-charge of the NISHAD Party that was formed in 2016.
Small parties in the state are not just queuing up to be part of the opposition grand alliance, but some of them are working with the BJP as well. One such party is the Apna Dal (Sonelal), whose leader Anupriya Patel is a Union minister in the NDA government.
"Our coalition with the BJP has been in place since 2007 when our party's founder Sonelal Patel was there... In 2019, we are fighting in alliance with the BJP," Apna Dal (S) spokesperson Arvind Sharma told PTI.
"What will be the strategy and what will be the preconditions has not been decided. In-principle we are together and we are a trusted ally of the BJP," he said.
In Purvanchal, the areas which have substantial Kurmi population, Apna Dal had transferred its votes to BJP candidates and helped them win in the past, Mr Sharma said.
Asked if small parties will play a crucial role by transferring their dedicated vote bank to big parties, he said that was the whole premise of having a smaller coalition partner.
Apna Dal (S) constitutes 12 per cent the Kurmi vote bank and will play the role of a "game changer", Mr Sharma claimed.
Another party that is pitching to make a difference in Uttar Pradesh is the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM that is set to make its Lok Sabha elections debut in the state next year.
The AIMIM is keen to take on the BJP by joining hands with the grand opposition alliance taking shape in the state, but is not happy with the response of opposition parties it has got till now.
"If the (opposition) alliance ignores us, we will also ignore it completely. We want to be part of the grand alliance. If they don't include AIMIM, it is a political party and will contest elections," AIMIM spokesperson Asim Waqar said.
"If we are sidelined and ignored, we know how to give a fitting reply," he said
Without alliance with small parties, the BJP cannot be stopped in 2019, he asserted, adding that his party would prove to be a "game changer".
The Peace Party is also keen to take on the BJP as part of the opposition coalition.
"In all the by-elections that have taken place, Peace Party has fought with the opposition alliance. In the Lok Sabha elections next year also we will fight in the opposition alliance," part president Mohamed Ayub said.
Another small party that is looking to make its presence felt in the 2019 parliamentary polls in UP is the SBSP, an ally of the BJP.
The party was founded in 2002 with backward classes as its main support base. Its leader Om Prakash Rajbhar is a Cabinet minister in the BJP-led government in Uttar Pradesh.
The SBSP has made it clear that it will fight the 2019 Lok Sabha polls with the BJP, only if its preconditions on reservation are met.
"The issues on which we have aligned with the BJP, if they are dealt with by the BJP, then the Bhartiya Samaj Party will work to get votes for the BJP on all seats in the state," SBSP spokesperson Arun Rajbhar said.
Sanjay K Pandey, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and a political commentator, said the contest is expected to be very keen in UP and in such a scenario the smaller parties could play a crucial role.
However, he said, "If there is a Mahagathbandhan, the role of smaller parties, would be minimised to some extent. They will still make a difference, but not in a big way, Mr Pandey said.
Manindra Nath Thakur, an associate professor at the Centre for Political Studies of JNU, said small parties will be important if the fight is close and not one-sided.
This is the new era of micro management and therefore, the small parties become important, he said.
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