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The Nishad Party of Uttar Pradesh, which has seen a meteoric rise in state politics within six years of its inception, has a tough road ahead in the ongoing assembly polls in the 16 seats it is contesting in alliance in the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Primarily, the party faces a three-fold challenge.
First, the seats granted to the party by its coalition partner, the BJP, will be difficult to win. Second, several parties, including the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress, have also been trying to woo Nishad caste voters by fielding candidates from the same community, posing a serious challenge to the party’s vote bank.
Third, even relatively smaller parties like Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP), Pragatisheel Manav Samaj Party (PMSP) and Sarvahara Vikas Party (SSP) have also been trying to make a dent in the Nishad Party’s vote share. How much remains on the latter’s thali (a platter of food which is the Nishad Party’s election symbol) will be seen on the counting day on March 10.
The Nishad Party is contesting the assembly polls in 16 constituencies. In six seats, its candidates are contesting on BJP tickets while in the remaining seats on its own symbol. Of the 16 seats, Nishad Party candidates are fielded in nine seats where the BJP suffered a defeat in the previous election. The BJP has fielded Shravan Kumar Nishad, the son of Nishad Party’s state president Dr. Sanjay Kumar Nishad, from Chauri Chaura seat in the Gorakhpur district.
The 16 seats given to Nishad Party are Kalpi (Jalaun district), Handia and Karchana (Prayagraj), Kathari (Ambedkar Nagar), Chauri Chaura (Gorakhpur), Mehdawal (Sant Kabir Nagar), Nautanwa (Maharajganj), Khadda and Tamkuhiraj (Kushinagar), Gyanpur (Bhadohi), Atraulia (Azamgarh), Bansdih (Ballia), Shahganj (Jaunpur), Majhwa (Mirzapur), Saidpur (Ghazipur) and Sadar (Sultanpur). Of these, the Kalpi assembly constituency went to the polls on February 20. Elections in all the remaining seats are to be held in the remaining four phases.
In the previous assembly election held in 2017, the BJP faced a drubbing in Atraulia, Nautanwa, Tamkuhi, Gyanpur, Kathari, Bansdih, Shahganj, Karchana and Saidpur seats. In most of these seats, the winning candidates were veteran opposition leaders.
For instance, Congress state president Ajay Kumar Lallu won from Tamkuhi, leader of opposition in the state assembly and senior socialist leader Ram Govind Chaudhary from Bansdih, and Lalji Verma, a senior BSP leader, from Kathari. Before the 2022 polls, Verma defected to the SP and is contesting from the same seat.
Ujjwal Raman Singh, son of senior SP leader Revati Raman Singh, won the election from Karchana in the previous election. The son of former minister Amar Mani Tripathi, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of poetess Madhumita Shukla, Aman Mani Tripathi, contested the last elections as an independent from jail and won from Nautanwa.
Of the 16 Nishad Party candidates in the fray, three belong to the Nishad community, one is Dalit, one Bhumihar, one Noniya and five Brahmin and Kshatriya caste members.
Meanwhile, opposition leaders have criticised the Nishad Party’s decision to field non-Nishad candidates in the polls. The Congress, SP and the BJP are eyeing the Nishad vote bank and have nominated several candidates from the community. In addition, the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) floated by Bihar’s Nishad leader and minister Mukesh Sahni and Dr. Premchand Bind’s PMSP have also fielded Nishad candidates in the Nishad-dominated seats.
The VIP had initially nominated candidates in more than 100 seats in the state, but the nomination of 50 candidates was rejected. Now, the party has 60 candidates in the fray. Sahni alleges that there is “conspiracy” in rejecting the nomination of his party’s candidates.
In the previous election, the Nishad Party formed an alliance with the Peace Party and contested 72 seats securing a total of 5,40,539 votes. One of its candidates, strongman leader, Vijay Mishra won the election from Gyanpur.
After an exceptional performance in the 2017 elections, Nishad Party quickly gained political leverage and was much sought after by major parties. A year later, in the Lok Sabha by-election of Gorakhpur, the Nishad Party entered an alliance with the SP and defeated the BJP, sending shockwaves through UP’s political arena. The winning candidate was Praveen Kumar Nishad, the elder son of Nishad Party president Dr. Sanjay Kumar Nishad.
However, the alliance with SP broke a year later and in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Dr. Sanjay Kumar Nishad joined hands with the BJP. This time, Praveen Kumar entered the fray from the parliamentary constituency of Sant Kabir Nagar on a BJP ticket and won.
As an alliance partner of the BJP, it was speculated that Sanjay Nishad would be nominated to the Rajya Sabha after the elections. But instead, the BJP nominated former minister Jaiprakash Nishad, a Nishad leader from Gorakhpur, to the Rajya Sabha.
Over the next two years, the BJP governments at the Centre and the state paid little heed to the Nishad Party’s demands, but the exodus of backward class leaders from the BJP right before the polls this year has forced the party to not only continue the alliance with the Nishad Party and Apna Dal but allow them to bargain in the seat-sharing formula. The BJP also appointed Sanjay Nishad as an MLC apart from handing 16 seats to the Nishad Party.
However, despite increasing the seat share of the Nishad Party, the BJP still has the upper hand in the alliance as candidates on six of the seats are contesting for the BJP, while most of the candidates in the remaining seats are BJP leaders contesting for the Nishad Party. In addition, as a challenge to the Nishad Party, the BJP granted nine seats to it in which the party had suffered a defeat in the previous elections.
However, Sanjay Kumar Nishad is confident that his party would secure a win in all nine seats the BJP earlier lost since Nishad voters have now lent their support to the BJP. He also said that the BJP has extended ample support to him in every seat. He has been allocated a helicopter for the election campaign and is going to hold rallies in all the 16 constituencies, apart from the Nishad-dominated seats.
Earlier, the Nishad Party concentrated on the Purvanchal region. This year, however, the party has been expanding its clout to Bundelkhand and Awadh regions.
Sanjay Nishad claimed that his party will win 12 or 13 out of 16 seats. In all these seats, the Nishad Party won a significant number of votes in 2017. With the BJP by its side, the party has nothing to worry about, he said.
When asked about SP fielding Nishad candidates, he said, “The SP has tried to sabotage the political presence of Nishad leaders. They have nominated Nishad leaders in seats where they have little chance of winning. Bringing Ram Bhuwal Nishad from Gorakhpur to Rudrapur in Deoria and Shankhlal Manjhi to Pharenda in Maharajganj from Sant Kabir Nagar district is part of this conspiracy.”
“How can you reap if you do not sow?” he added. “We have only opted for seats where there is hope of getting a positive outcome.”
Do the parties of Mukesh Sahni and Premchand Bind pose a threat to the Nishad Party? “We have nothing to fear if they are in the fray,” he responded. “Every constituency has its share of dissatisfied voters. They will get those votes.”
Sanjay Nishad may exude confidence for now, but a big challenge awaits him in every constituency. In Chauri Chaura, the SP has pitted a pilot of the Pasi community against his son, Shravan Nishad. Ajay Kumar Singh Tappu, a rebel leader of the BJP, is also getting a lot of support from the BJP camp. Meanwhile, the BJP leaders contesting for the Nishad Party are upset as their supporters, who are used to voting for the lotus symbol, need to be familiarised with the Nishad Party’s symbol, a thali.
Mukesh Sahni, on the other hand, has added to Sanjay Nishad’s troubles by running a fierce campaign targeting the Nishad Party in his rallies. In one of his public addresses, he even accused Sanjay Nishad of “running a shop in the guise of a political party”.
“He is contesting the election for the BJP and not his own party,” Sahni alleged.
He also alleged that instead of fielding candidates of the Nishad community, Sanjay Nishad “sold” Nishad votes to get tickets for upper caste candidates. Mukesh Sahni said that the Nishad community put their trust in Sanjay Kumar and made him a leader, but he betrayed their trust. He knelt before big parties when it should have been the other way round, he added. Sahni claims that he is not contesting only to win the election but to defeat some forces.
In many other districts including Allahabad, Mirzapur, Bhadohi, Sonbhadra, the Pragatisheel Manav Samaj Party (PMSP), which has a strong foothold among the Bind community, is also giving Nishad Party a hard time, especially in three seats of Handia, Gyanpur, and Majhwa.
As soon as the Nishad Party nominated Vipul Dubey as its candidate in Gyanpur, the PMSP announced strongman leader Vijay Mishra’s name. There are a significant number of Bind voters in the area. Earlier, Premchand Bind also contested from here. The PMSP has also fielded candidates in Handia and Karchana. Premchand Bind makes a distinction between the Bind and the Nishad caste and does not consider them as one. Whereas Sanjay Nishad claims that Bind is a Nishad sub-caste. The PMSP is contesting in a total of five seats.
The Sarvhara Vikas Party (SVP), floated only recently, had earlier announced that it will be contesting in 25 Nishad-dominated seats, but now instead of directly contesting the election, it has started campaigning against the BJP. The party is also supporting Nishad candidates contesting polls from parties other than the Nishad Party.
Shiv Sahni, an SVP leader, said, “The Nishad Party has deceived the Nishads and stripped them of their entitlement. We are campaigning against them to teach them a lesson.”
The party is especially focusing on campaigning against Shravan Nishad in the Chauri Chaura seat.