The most awaited press conference of the RJD-led opposition camp was being held in Patna on Saturday night. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav was seated along with leaders of all the other parties of the RJD-Congress-Left parties' grand alliance as the seat sharing arrangement between the parties was being announced.
Not even 15 minutes after Tejashwi announced the seat sharing formula, according to which, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP) were to be allotted seats from RJD's quota, an incident caught everyone by surprise. As soon as the microphone was handed to Mukesh Sahani — the founder of VIP whom minutes ago Tejashwi had called his 'elder brother' — created a sensation by claiming to have been 'backstabbed' by the RLD leader and stormed out of the press conference, and the alliance, with his supporters.
Sahani has kept his options — of joining NDA+ or Pappu Yadav-led JAP+ or fighting it out alone — open for now. Sahani, who claimed to have been promised 25 seats and the position of a deputy Chief Minister, is unlikely to be wooed back by the RJD.
In fact, smaller parties such as RLSP and VIP are finding it tough to find space in either JD(U)-BJP or RJD-Congress camps for the simple reason that these parties centered around strong personalities have not been able to transfer votes to larger parties, as RJD and Congress leaders found out in 2019 Lok Sabha polls when they led a rainbow coalition of VIP, RLSP and Hindustan Awam Morcha, Secular (HAMS).
There is also the fact that since 2005, the electorate of Bihar has given very clear mandates to larger parties, leaving little room for smaller political outfits to grow. In the last assembly elections, HAMS fought on 21 seats and was successful on only one. Upendra Khushwaha-led RLSP fought on 23 seats but won only two. In the last Lok Sabha polls, all three parties put together fought on 11 seats but could not win even one. Even the three leaders drew a blank in the seats where they contested. Sahani himself lost by over 2.5 lakh votes to his rival from the LJP. The two other contestants from VIP lost by over four lakh votes.
Jitan Ram Manjhi-led HAMS has been the only exception, in that after falling out with the grand alliance last month, Manjhi was accommodated by Nitish Kumar through JD(U)'s quota of seats. But this may have happened due to other reasons, such as Nitish wanting a strong Dalit face on his side after his party's fallout with the LJP.
Of all these three parties, Sahani-led VIP was the latest active entrant into Bihar's active politics. In fact, this is only the second election that VIP has fought, but Sahani has already seen his fair share of ups and downs in Bihar politics.
Sahani's political project in Bihar began around 2013 when he, on the back of a social movement he was running for the fishermen community called ‘Nishad Vikas Sangh’, started appearing in BJP-led events in the run up to 2014 general elections. Sahani was only 19 when he had fled his hometown in Bihar's Khagaria to work in Mumbai as a salesperson. He went on to become a big-ticket set designer for films like Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Devdas and Salman Khan-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Though he still did not have his own political party then, Sahani started appearing with Amit Shah on stage during the last assembly election in 2015. He was seen in photographs of many closed door meetings attended by senior party leaders.
But after BJP's loss in Bihar, Sahani was left in political wilderness for some time. He tried to rally his party cadre by attacking Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for allegedly not doing enough for the fishermen community and by demanding inclusion of fishermen, or Nishads, in the state list of Scheduled Tribes (STs). Known more popularly by the sobriquet 'Son of Mallah', Sahani finally founded his VIP in November 2018 and within six months of it was given three seats by the RJD in the last Lok Sabha polls.
Several reports indicate that Sahani has come to New Delhi to discuss possibilities with senior BJP leaders to try and crack a last minute seat-sharing arrangement, although there has been no official confirmation of it. If it works out, Sahani's brief but eventful political career will come back to a full circle, and he would go back to rallying for the party which he first supported and then campaigned against.