Bihar’s ‘Son of Mallah’ eyes a bigger catch in UP

Mukesh Sahani wants to be the leader of his community and also has national ambitions. Can he take on the BJP and succeed?

Mukesh Sahani (centre), founder of the Vikassheel Insaan Party | Twitter: @sonofmallah

Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) is aiming to get the largest possible pie in seat-sharing for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh election.

Sahani, popularly known as the ‘Son of Mallah’, recently said the VIP will contest 165 out of the 403 seats in UP. The Bihar animal fisheries resources minister met former chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi to discuss a possible alliance.

Given Sahani’s ambitions, it is difficult to say if Manjhi will align with him, particularly when Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) will in all probability strike an alliance with the BJP. 

Manjhi is unlikely to team up with Sahani and annoy Nitish as well as the BJP, especially given the stakes are not high for his party in the UP election, according to political analyst Indrajit Singh. If Manjhi really wants to contest the UP election, the BJP could offer him a few seats, he said.

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The BJP could also compensate Manjhi by conceding more seats to him in the upcoming elections to the Bihar legislative council. Manjhi reportedly wants his younger son, son-in-law and daughter-in-law accommodated in the elections to the upper house of the legislature, Singh added.

Sahani’s meeting with Manjhi is also seen as a ploy by the former to exert pressure on the BJP; The support of both VIP and HAM (S) is crucial for Nitish, who has a wafer-thin majority in Bihar. The two parties won four seats each in the last Bihar assembly election. One VIP legislator, however, died recently.

The ruling NDA in Bihar has 126 legislators – BJP 74, JD (U) 45, HAM (S) four and VIP three. It also has the support of one independent MLA, Sumit Singh, a minister. If the government ever faces a floor test, it will need the support of at least 122 MLAs in the 243-member assembly.

National Ambitions

Sahani has taken an aggressive position ahead of the polls, even locking horns with the Uttar Pradesh government on the issue of installing statues of the late dacoit-turned-politician, Phoolan Devi, in 18 districts. Sahani made his move in July 2020 itself, but Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath scuttled his plans as the police and district administration seized the statues at Varanasi and Mirzapur and did not allow the party to hold a proposed meeting on the death anniversary of Phoolan, a Mallah.

The late dacoit-turned-politician, Phoolan Devi

The UP government, in fact, did not even allow Sahani to exit the Varanasi airport. Undeterred, Sahani started spending more time in UP making preparations for the election.

Sahani is also trying to emerge as the main leader of the Mallahs, who are also referred to as ‘Nishad’, and eyeing a national role.

In Bihar, the Nishads constitute 14.07 per cent of the population.

Sahani has taken digs at Nitish, without naming him, saying if communities with 3 per cent population can have a CM, why can’t communities with 14 per cent. Nitish is a Kurmi, who constitute 3 per cent of Bihar’s population.

Sahani has even crossed swords with the chief of the Nishad Party, Dr Sanjay Nishad, in UP, and claimed to be the true champion of the community. He accuses Dr Nishad of maintaining silence on the issue of reservation for Nishads.

Sahani alleges that Dr Nishad remained silent when union Home Minister Amit Shah failed to announce reservation for the community at a rally in Lucknow on December 17.

The growing clout of the Nishad community in Purvanchal became clear when Nishad’s son, Praveen Kumar, defeated the BJP’s Upendra Dutt Shukla in the 2018 Gorakhpur by-poll.

From 1991 to 2014 this Lok Sabha seat was held by a representative of the Gorakhnath Math – first Adityanath’s mentor, Mahant Avaidyanath, and then the CM himself.

Praveen fought on a Samajwadi Party ticket and romped to victory with the support of his father’s party, the BSP and smaller outfits like the Peace Party. In UP, Nishads constitute around 17 per cent of the population.

Relationship with the BJP

It is difficult to say if Sahani has made the right decision by taking on the BJP in UP. But he will not hesitate to quit the NDA if it helps him emerge as a leader of his community, a political commentator said on condition of anonymity.

Political analyst Alok Mohit said: “Sahani is eying the support of the Nishads, who have a considerable presence in Purvanchal [eastern UP] and central region of the state. Sahani is also claiming the legacy of former MP Phoolan Devi.”

In the past, Sahani has regularly accused some BJP leaders of humiliating him, Mohit added.

Another analyst, Kamal Kant Sahay, said the BJP will not allow Sahani to emerge on the national scene or indulge him at the cost of its own prospects in UP.

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