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The VIP Factor: Can Mukesh Sahni Help Grand Alliance Tap Into Nishad Votes in Bihar?

The VIP Factor: Can Mukesh Sahni Help Grand Alliance Tap Into Nishad Votes in Bihar?

In the ongoing elections, the VIP is contesting in Khagaria, Madhubani and Muzaffarpur seats where the party is quite hopeful of winning with the support of Yadav, Manjhi, Muslim and Nishad communities.

Patna: The Vikassheel Insan Party, popularly called VIP, is actually a VIP in the Bihar grand alliance. Though it is contesting on three crucial Lok Sabha seats, the VIP’s support base is said to have considerable influence in 10 seats.

The VIP majorly represents the Nishad community, which comprises 22 sub-castes. Sahni, Punaut, Jethaut, Kaul, Tiyar, Chabh, Bind and Gangait are some of the sub-castes which are collectively a potent political force.

“A politician like (RJD chief) Lalu Prasad has offered three Lok Sabha seats to a three-month-old party. It can’t be without purpose. His political understanding cannot be questioned as he knows the core strength of the Nishad community,” VIP chief Mukesh Sahni said while speaking to News18.

The slogan coined by the party – ‘Maach Bhaat Khayenge, Gathbandhan Ko Jitayenge (We’ll eat rice and fish, and make the alliance victorious)’ – resonates well with the community.

In the ongoing elections, the VIP is contesting in Khagaria, Madhubani and Muzaffarpur seats where the party is quite hopeful of winning with the support of Yadav, Manjhi, Muslim and Nishad communities.

Mukesh Sahni’s politics revolves around the demand of inclusion of the Nishad community among the Scheduled Tribes.

Before the bifurcation of Bengal in 1935, the Nishad community was counted among STs, but after the carving out of Bihar as a separate state, Nishads were accorded the status of Other Backward Castes (OBC). In Bengal and Odisha, they are still part of STs.

Sahni had campaigned for the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections as well as in the 2015 Bihar Assembly polls. Upset over the delay in ST status for Nishads, Sahni said, “I trusted the BJP and managed to get recommendation of the state government, but the Centre did not pay heed to it.”

Cashing in on the issue, Sahni is now appealing to voters to “prove the strength of the community” by voting against the Narendra Modi government. And it seems to be working.

“We have got a leader who can uplift a downtrodden society like ours. We support the cause he is fighting for,” Suresh Tanti, a resident of Karua More, Khagaria told News18.

The Nishad community was earlier led by captain Jay Narayan Nishad in the Muzaffarpur region. He was initially with the RJD, but later switched over to the NDA because of differences with Lalu Prasad. After the demise of Jay Narayan Nishad, Nitish Kumar launched several welfare schemes to make inroads into the community.

Kumar’s attempts paid off with the JD(U) winning Assembly elections. In 2014 Lok Sabha and 2015 Assembly elections, Nitish Kumar deserted the NDA and fought against the BJP-led alliance.

Given Sahni’s clout in the community, the BJP tried to woo Nishad voters with his support. The BJP managed to win seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but lost heavily in the 2015 Assembly polls.

Mukesh Sahni, a movie set designer in Bollywood, started mobilising the sub-castes within the Nishad community under the banner of Nishad Vikas Manch in 2014.

In November 2018, Sahni launched his political outfit in Gandhi Maidan amid a sea of supporters and finally managed to project himself as a leader of the Nishad community. Party insiders believe the Nishad community, being the second largest community after the Yadavs, is a formidable force in state politics.

Refuting allegations of political opportunism, RJD spokesperson Bhai Virendra said, “Lalu Yadav has always worked for the upliftment of the downtrodden. That’s why we accommodated Mukesh Sahni and allotted three seats to prove we actually care for them.”

Calling the Mahagathbandhan weak, JD(U) spokesman Sanjay Singh said, “Nitish Kumar has established his credentials as ‘Vikash Purush’ among all sections of the society, especially the backward and EBC. VIP will hardly be able to make inroads as they have no base on the ground.”