Patna: Stakes are high for the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) president Mukesh Sahani, also known as Son of Mallah, in the fifth phase of the parliamentary elections due on May 6 in Bihar.
Of the five constituencies going to the polls, Muzaffarpur and Madhubani are crucial for the political survival of Sahani, who was given three seats - Khagaria, Muzaffarpur and Madhubani - in the grand alliance led by RJD in Bihar.
Sahani, who has been championing the cause of his Mallah (fishermen) community since 2014, has fielded two candidates, including him, from the Mallah community and another candidate from the Suri (trading) community.
Sahani contested against LJP’s sitting MP Mahboob Ali Kaiser from the Khagaria Lok Sabha seat, where polling was completed in the third phase on April 23.
He has fielded Rajbhushan Choudhary, a Mallah, from Muzaffarpur seat and Badri Nath Purve, a Suri by caste and son of former MLA Kameshwar Purve, from Madhubani seat of Mithilanchal.
Both the VIP candidates are facing tough challenges from the BJP veterans. While Rajbhushan Choudhary is pitted against sitting BJP MP Ajay Nishad in Muzaffarpur, Badri Nath Purve is locked in triangular fight against Ashok Yadav, son of former Union Minister Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav, and rebel Congress candidate Shakeel Ahmad in Madhubani.
As the contest appears to be keen in Muzaffarpur and Madhubani, the charisma of the VIP chief will be put to test. Sahani will have to ensure that the votes of the social combination backing the mahagathbandhan, besides Muslims, are cast in favour of his candidates.
If he fails, his appeal may wane because the Mallahs, also called Nishads, have been the most sought-after community in the electoral calculation of the mainline political parties. Every political party tries to rope in their support since Nishads are the largest community among 120-odd castes bracketed in the Extremely Backward Castes (EBC) category in Bihar.
And, if Sahani succeeds in winning all the three seats, he will emerge as the sole leader of the community which has sizeable presence and matters in the electoral politics of North Bihar. Thereafter, like other caste leaders—big or small—Sahani is bound to play a crucial role in Bihar politics.
Not surprisingly then, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at his recent election rally at Muzaffarpur, promised a separate ministry of fisheries if voted to power. Modi also made a mention of his government having appointed a local Nishad leader, Bhagwan Lal Sahani, the first chairman of the newly created National Commission for Backward Classes. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar too hailed Bhagwan Lal Sahanias ‘Muzaffarpur ke lal’ (worthy son of Muzaffarpur).
The anxiety of the top NDA leaders has strengthened speculation that the mahagathbandhan, with Mukesh Sahani on its side, may take away chunk of the Nishad votes in Bihar.
Mukesh Sahni, the self-styled ‘Son of Mallah’, had emerged on the political firmament of Bihar in 2014 when he campaigned for NDA along with BJP chief Amit Shah. Under the banner of his fledgling outfit called Nishad Vikash Sangh, Mukesh travelled the length and breadth of the state to mobilise support of his caste fraternity for the NDA candidates.
Sahani had secured a promise from the top NDA leadership that the Nishad community would be given representation in government proportionate to their population. Claiming to constitute 14 per cent population in Bihar, Sahani had demanded SC-ST status to the Nishad community to ensure justice hitherto denied to them.
But soon after 2014 Lok Sabha polls, his demands were ignored despite protests organised in Patna and other parts of Bihar. Eventually, Mukesh floated a new party named Vikasshil Insaan Party at a rally at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan on the eve of the elections.
Posters and banners with catchy slogans like ‘Machh bhat khayenge, mahagathbandhan ko jitayenge’ dotted every nook and corner of Patna when he joined the grand alliance. He also hosted a fish and rice feast to top leaders of the mahagathbandhan on the occasion.
Though Sahani has the potential to lead his fraternity, he will have to display the traits of a serious leader and shed the tag of a ‘moneyed man’ that has automatically been attached to him due to his business of erecting expensive film sets in Bollywood.
The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.