New Delhi: Conceding 11 seats to the backward and Mahadalit parties in the grand Bihar alliance, the Rashtriya Janata Dal has sought to knit an umbrella social coalition for 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar with a clear objective to restrict NDA’s efforts to woo floating votes among the intermediary castes.
The biggest beneficiary of the seat sharing formula announced this afternoon in Patna is a little known political outfit - Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP).
For a party formed barely a year ago by a person who hasn’t fought an election himself to get three Lok Sabha seats on a turf as crowded as Bihar, this may seem like a big achievement. But considering the backward communities that Mukesh Sahani has been able to mobilise across the state, his seat share begins to make sense.
Sahani draws his influence from an organisation called Nishad Vikas Sangh, which he set up to bring together the Nishads, traditional boatmen, that are divided in to 20 sub-castes. He has repeatedly claimed direct influence over some 1.75 crore Nishads who work in and around Bihar’s rivers. Nishads are part of the numerically significant 30% EBC community of the state.
“The importance of the Nishad community can be gauged by the fact that we have bagged three seats in the grand alliance,” Mukesh Sahani told News18 in an interview.
While Sahani may not have so far contested a seat himself, given his influence in the Nishad community, he was a star campaigner for the BJP in 2015 assembly polls.
Advertisements of the BJP in the newspapers bore his name and photographs. ‘Aage badi ladai hai, NDA mein bhalai hai’ was a popular slogan coined by him.
Though BJP ultimately ended up losing the elections, Sahani claims that it was because of him that 7% of Bihar's Nishad dynasty voted for the BJP.
Sahani has reportedly got a lot of traction among the Nishad community members due to his raising the demand for their inclusion in the list of Scheduled Tribes. A demand that has still not been met.
Nishads are present in significant numbers in Parliamentary constituencies in East UP and West Bihar. Their independent strength may not be able to deliver much, but Nishads, as the case in Gorakhpur showed, where a Nishad candidate fielded on an SP ticket won a Parliamentary bypoll, have a huge multiplier effect on the outfit they ally with.
There are 20 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar - half a dozen in Muzaffarpur, East Champaran, Darbhanga, Begusarai and UP-Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, Mirzapur, Bhadohi, Jaunpur, Allahabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Sant Kobirnagar, Muzaffarnagar, Badayun, Lakhimpur Kheri, Fatehpur etc. where their political aspiration will be felt distinctly in the upcoming polls for the first time ever.
Apart from VIP, RLSP being given five seats could also be seen as giving due respect to the Khushwaha (Koeri) community, which is a powerful OBC community that has historically voted in tandem with Kurmis, of which Nitish is a big leader.
Khushwaha was given three seats in the NDA LS coalition in ’14, but was denied more than three by NDA this time. Giving RLSP five seats could be seen as an attempt to de-hyphenate Khushwahas and Kurmis.
Giving HAM three LS seats also can be seen as an attempt to break into the EBC community to woo which Nitish has spent a lot of his time and resources over the past five years.