Lucknow: With elections in Uttar Pradesh on the horizon the Nishad community, which had proved to be beneficial for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the previous polls, are once again being wooed by all and sundry.
The Nishads are a dominant sub-caste spread across the banks of the Ganges – considered holy by Hindus – in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. An OBC community, the Nishad vote share matters much in state politics.
Barely a week ago, the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) made its entry into Uttar Pradesh politics and announced that it would contest 165 assembly seats in the 2022 elections in the state. India's most populated state is home to 403 assembly seats and recent trends have shown that it holds the key when it comes to making inroads for the post of PM.
Mukesh Sahani, the VIP leader famously known as 'Son of Mallah', followed up his announcement by expressing his interest install the statue of slain Member of Parliament (MP) Phoolan Devi in 18 districts of the state. Phoolan Devi, 'The Bandit Queen', was elected the Samajwadi Party MP from Mirzapur in 1999 before her assassination a year later. She belonged to the Nishad community and all the 18 districts mentioned earlier have a sizable Mallah (Nishad) population.
The SP had benefited the most from fielding a large number of candidates from the Nishad community in the past. The BSP later took the same route; they were followed by the BJP, which was able to get the majority of seats in UP in 2017.
Recently, the Congress’ east Uttar Pradesh in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also joined this league by holding a ‘Boat Yatra’ before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in a bid to highlight the plight of the community in Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad).
Sahani's announcement has stirred the Nishad Party which is in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state. Political observers see it as a threat to Sanjay Nishad, who leads the Nishad Party. Notably, the Nishad Party is the only political outfit which is said to cater to the Nishad community and is dominant in about 150 assembly seats. Sanjay Nishad has expressed his displeasure with the BJP after a union cabinet berth was denied to his son Praveen, and his father firmly believes that it is time the ruling party paid up.
As of now, both parties have some kind of bargaining power at their disposal. However, if pitted against each other, both are likely to come out looking worse off.
Senior journalist Awanish Vidyarthi says that none of the "big faces" were able to get a cabinet spot in the past and that only Apna Dal's Anupriya Patel was inducted, that too very late.
“Jamuna Prasad, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader who gave tough competition to Yogi Adityanath in Gorakhpur, was promoted as minister by the then CM Mayawati. Sanjay Nishad emerged as a leader of the Nishad community at the time and by joining hands with the SP they were able to defeat the BJP’s candidate, that too in the CM's city of Gorakhpur. But later, they joined hands with the BJP. Notably, this particular seat was held by the BJP since 1989, and Praveen Nishad was able to win by a margin of 21,000 votes,” says Vidyarthi.
He adds that every political party promises to include some of the lower OBC communities in the Schedule Caste category in its manifesto, but fails to so once in power.
“Now that Jitan Ram Manjhi has also announced that he will contest elections in the state, the fight is definitely interesting because the real voters of the Nishad community will have many choices in picking a leader,” the journalist says, adding: “The Nishads are also important because the literate ones have been mobilising their community members in their pockets for many years. And yes, they can swing results for any party they go with.”
Nishad, a lower sub-caste under the OBC category, includes castes like Dhimar, Dhivar, Kharvaar, Khairwar, Godiya, Gond, Garivaa, Rajgond, Mallah, Band, Manjhi, Batham, Majhwar, Jhimar, Jheevar, Jhir, Jheer, Noniya, Bind, Raikwar, Kevat, Turaiha, Kashyap and a few others.
The Nishads claim they are descendants of Nishadraj, the boatman, who, as per Hindu beliefs, helped Lord Ram cross the Ganga during his exile.
“They are only vote banks for political parties. The riverine community has not been benefited much and they seriously need upliftment for their growth and prosperity. After wresting away some bargaining power the leaders of this community think of themselves as ‘messiahs’. The people are very disappointed with them but since they represent their community they get votes," says Brijendra Dubey, an independent journalist based in Mirzapur.
The writer is an independent journalist.