The man who engineered the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) recent by-poll victory in chief minister Adityanath’s bastion – Gorakhpur – in Uttar Pradesh is Dr Sanjay Kumar Nishad, national president of the Nishad Party.
Four years ago, Sanjay Nishad was a name known to few. Those who knew him were mostly members of the Nishad community. Today, he is being described as the man who scripted the story of defeat of Adityanath, who till recently was considered invincible in his own constituency.
Who is Sanjay Nishad? What does he do? When did he float the Nishad Party and why? What is the nature of his politics?
Before establishing the Nishad Party in 2013, Sanjay used to run an electro-homeopathy clinic on the Geeta Vatika Road at Rapti Nagar in Gorakhpur. This particular medical methodology believes that diseases are caused by impurities in the lymph and blood systems, and can be cured by micro or mineral salts extracted from plants. He approached the Supreme Court to get electro-homeopathy recognised as a medical system. In 2002, he formed the Purvanchal Medical Electro-Homeopathy Association and became its president.
Politically active for the last two decades, Sanjay was initially associated with BAMCEF (Backward and Minority Communities’ Employees Federation). He also unsuccessfully once contested assembly polls from Campierganj.
Later, Sanjay got involved with caste politics. In 2008, he formed two organisations called All India Backward and Minority Welfare Mission and Shakti Mukti Mahasangram. Prior to launching the Nishad Party, he formed National Nishad Integration Council, trying to unite different sub-castes of the Nishad community. He also launched a campaign to bring 553 castes of fishermen community on one platform. He informed his community members how incorporating all the synonymous castes of the Nishad community into one Scheduled caste would benefit the society.
The Nishad community has been granted Scheduled caste status in 14 states. In UP, seven synonymous Nishad castes – Manjhwar, Gaur, Turha, Kharot, Kharvar, Beldar, Koli – are recognised as Scheduled castes while the other sub-castes are given OBC (Other Backward Caste) status.
According to Sanjay, all castes of the Nishad community are Scheduled castes under the Constitution. What is needed is a strong definition of these castes. He enlightened the community about its political power and urged them to get organised as a party instead of oscillating between different parties.
The Nishad community, according to Sanjay, constitutes 17% population in Uttar Pradesh with influence in 152 assembly seats. Once united, the community can no longer be ignored, he believes.
Sanjay Nishad grabbed the headlines for the first time when he blocked the railway tracks at Kasrawal village, in Gorakhpur’s neighbouring Sahjanwa region, demanding Scheduled caste status for Nishads on June 7, 2015.
Hundreds of Nishad community members joined him, mostly youth from Western Uttar Pradesh and Purvanchal region. A violent clash between the protesters and the police left one protester, Akhilesh Nishad, dead. The protesters torched vehicles on the highway. The Samajwadi Party government, which was in power then, took stern action and registered cases against three dozen people, including Sanjay Nishad.
Sanjay went underground but the rest of the accused were arrested. Later, he surrendered and was let out on bail.
This incident brought him into the spotlight and he used this opportunity to bolster the Nishad Party by forming village-level organisations, engaging women and youth. Maroon caps and flag symbolised the party, and workers were given regular training and enlightened about Nishad history, culture and civilisation.
Sanjay Nishad is the author of two books – Nishadon ka itihas (The History of Nishads) and Bharat ka Asli Maalik Kaun hai (Who is the Real Owner of India?)
In Nishadon ka Itihas he writes, “The history of Nishads is very old. Nishad finds mention in the world’s oldest Rigveda. Nishads are mentioned several times in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The first shloka of Maharishi Valmiki uses the term Nishad. Even Ved Vyas, the author of Mahabharata, was a great Nishad Maha Rishi. In the Mahabharata, many epics have been written on Nal, the son of Nishad King Raja Vir Sen.”
He further writes that he is presenting Nishad history in order to organise the community into one strong group by invoking the past and bringing about a change in the current politics as well as the system.
He writes, “The history of Nishads is the essence of the entire world history. It is not the history of one caste but that of all humans. It is the history of the culture when man learned to live in permanent settlements. It is the early history of civilization.” He also claims that ‘Aadya Nishad’ was the architect of the Indus civilisation.
In his book, Bharat ka Asli Malik Kaun Hai, Sanjay writes, “There were many rulers in the Nishad dynasty. We have a royal lineage. The magnificent fort of our Maharaj Guhraj Nishad stands at Shringverpur in Allahabad. The Kohli-Nishad capital during the Buddha period, Ramgram (the present Ramgarh) and the Gorakhnath temple of Machhendranath (Matsyendranath) are both located in Gorakhpur.”
He writes, “Nishads invented the jhum cultivation method using spade and stick.”
“The Nishads have never been enslaved, nor have they accepted the principles of Manusmriti. They gave up their lives fighting the British. Notable freedom fighters include names of Tilka Manjhi, Siddhon Manjhi, Jhuri Bind, Mauku and Bhima Kevat. Lakshmi Bai’s artilleryman Shankar, Bhavani, Jubba Sahni, Mati Kashyam. Avanti Bai Lodha, Samadhan Nishad, Lochan Nishad, Mahadev Kevat, Nevas Kumar Manjhi and others.”
According to him, the Nishads were brought under the ambit of the Criminal Tribes Act 1871. They were tortured because they confronted the British. As a result, the Nishads dispersed in different parts of the country, grouping themselves under different sub-castes.
While Sanjay wanted the party to be named as Nishad, the Election Commission refused to endorse a party with a caste-based name. Hence the birth of the acronym Nishad which stands for Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal. Bearing caste identity in mind, Sanjay made astute use of the acronym which has gained popularity among the public.
In July 2016, the Nishad Party carried out its first public show of strength in Gorakhpur. The BJP has been trying to exercise its influence over the Nishad community for some time. In fact, the party had appointed Mukesh Sahni as the star campaigner during the Bihar assembly polls hoping to gain Nishad votes. Sahni hails from Darbhanga in Bihar, and runs a film set designing business in Mumbai. He is the president of Nishad Development Sangh. Proud of his fishermen identity, he uses the title ‘Son of Mallah’ with his name.
Sahni announced his support for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar polls and the BJP used his name widely in campaign ads. Before joining the BJP, Sahni had a tie-up with (Janata Dal (United) leader) Nitish Kumar. Though the BJP suffered heavy losses in the polls then, Sahni claimed that the party won 7% votes of Bihar’s Nishad community. He also said that it was due to his efforts that the Yadav, Muslim, Koeri and Kurmi castes (with 41% votes) helped the Lalu-Nitish combine win the election.
Ahead of 2017 assembly polls, Sahni visited Uttar Pradesh and organised rath yatras demanding Scheduled caste status for Manjhi, Mallah and other equivalent castes and also the formation of a National Fishermen Commission.
To expand his popularity among members of Nishad community, he camped in Gorakhpur. On July 10, 2016, Sahni organised a conference on World Fishermen Day and announced his decision to install a statue of former MP Phoolan Devi in Gorakhpur’s Nishad temple.
This initiative by Sahni miffed several local Nishad leaders. It was speculated that he was attempting to polarise Nishad voters in favour of the BJP. Taking him into confidence, the Nishad Party offered to jointly install the statue of Phoolan Devi. It was decided that a 30-feet statue would be installed in Baghagada on her death anniversary on July 25. The giant statue was brought from Mumbai at Sahni’s behest. A huge rally was also planned in Champa Devi Park the same day.
However, the district administration refused to allow installation of the statue. Though the statue was not set up, the Nishad Party, National Nishad Integration Council and National Nishad Development Organisation held a mega rally on the banks of Ramgarh Tal in Champa Devi Park. More than 25,000 people gathered on the occasion
Though Phoolan Devi’s statue was not installed and is still lying in front of a house in Baghagada, the Nishad Party has come a long way.
In 2017 assembly polls, the Nishad Party formed a coalition with Peace Party and contested 72 seats. It managed to win only one, Gyanpur. But the winning candidate Vijay Mishra is now close to the BJP.
The Nishad Party got a total of 5,40,539 votes in the assembly polls. On several seats including Paniara, Campierganj, Sahjanwa, Khajani, Tamkuhiraj, Bhadohi and Chandoli, it received more than 10,000 votes.
Sanjay Nishad contested from Gorakhpur rural seat but lost by 34,869 votes in 2017. Though he may have lost the election then, he managed to get his son Praveen Nishad elected on an SP ticket in the recent UP bypolls. Praveen Nishad is now an MP.
Sanjay who used to criticise the BJP, Bahujan Samaj Party and SP till 2017, now claims that he has handed his son over to the SP; let the party do what it wants with him.
SP president Akhilesh Yadav, on the other side, is now calling Nishad Party a younger sibling of Samajwadi Party. Clearly, Nishad Party would like to maintain its independent status while in coalition with the SP until the next election.
Sanjay has an aggressive stand against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP and the Hindu Yuva Vahini. He calls the RSS and HYV anti-social organisations and the BJP is ‘Bharat Jalao Party’ (Burn India Party).
He is one of the few people in Gorakhpur who have dared to brazenly criticise the HYV. At a press conference in 2017, he called HYV an ‘organised gang’ that carries out riots and persecutes Muslims, Dalits, backwards and Nishads.
He has always maintained that the Gorakshpeeth of Gorakhpur belongs to the Nishad community. According to him, “Gorakshpeeth was founded by Matsyendranath who was born in the Ghivar family of Nishad lineage. But it was later annexed by Manuwadis.”
Describing Nishads, Dalits and backwards as native inhabitants of India, Sanjay defines Manuwad as a conspiracy with the mentality of enslaving the natives for generations.
Sanjay is always dressed in a suit while attending rallies and meetings. Waving at the crowd in his own characteristic style, he presents himself as a Messiah of the Nishad community. His supporters address him as ‘Mahamana’, the great.
Nishad party workers and supporters run dozens of WhatsApp groups. The party also runs a news portal called Eklavya Manav Sandesh News and a YouTube channel covering news of the community and Sanjay Nishad’s messages.
Inside Sanjay’s office, among the portraits of ancestors of the Nishad community adorning the walls are pictures of Vasco Da Gama and Columbus. Pointing out that they both were sailors, Sanjay says they shared common ancestry with the Nishad community claiming that the community is international. Those who depend for their livelihood on oceans, rivers and ponds are all Nishads by descent, according to him.
For now, the Nishad party has successfully established ‘Jai Nishad Raj’ as the new slogan in Gorakhpur replacing the old ‘Gorakhpur mein rehna hai to Yogi-Yogi kehna hai‘ If you want to stay in Gorakhpur, keep chanting the Yogi’s name).
Manoj Singh is a senior journalist based in Gorakhpur.
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman.